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EU, UN, and Human Rights Groups Remain at Odds With U.S. Over Closing Prison at Guantanamo


The recent suicides by two Saudis and one Yemeni at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have prompted renewed calls for closure of the controversial facility. The United States is currently holding more than 400 people at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taleban. Washington has described many of these inmates as dangerous “enemy combatants.” However, the United Nations, the European Parliament, and several human rights groups have urged the United States to close the prison, saying there is very little, or no, evidence against many of the detainees. Most have not been charged with crimes.

Eugene Fidell, president of the Washington-based National Institute of Military Justice, says the Guantanamo detentions have become an “albatross” around the neck of the United States. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, Mr. Fidell suggests that the suicides and the apparent carelessness of the prison guards have further tarnished the U.S. image in the international community, including America's allies. But attorney David Rivkin, former Justice Department official in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, disagrees that the three suicides point to any deficiency in the performance of the guards. Mr. Rivkin says it’s natural that the inmates should feel anger and despair, but notes that 43 earlier suicide attempts were thwarted. He argues that, just because a prisoner “succeeds in killing himself, it does not ennoble the person.” He says the critics are not only interested in closing Guantanamo, they also want a “complete cessation of the laws-of-war paradigm” by which captured enemy combatants can be retained so long as the conflict goes on.

Eugene Fidell says he thinks some of the detainees are truly dangerous, but he also notes that only ten have been charged before military commissions. He notes that President Bush has said he would like to shut down Guantanamo, but the administration is waiting for a decision on the constitutionality of a pending case before the Supreme Court – Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Mr. Fidell says he believes Guantanamo should be shut down, partly because it has acquired an “iconic dimension,” not unlike the notorious photo of the hooded prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. However, David Rivkin says Guantanamo should remain open. He adds that in some cases, if prisoners were returned to their countries of origin, they might be abused, which Washington wants to avoid. But Mr. Rivkin argues that, because the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaida represented an act of war against the United States, the detainees do not deserve a criminal trial in the civilian justice system. On the other hand, Mr. Fidell suggests that, as an alternative, the detainees could be tried before a military commission under the uniform military code of justice. Or, if the Supreme Court strikes down that remedy, Mr. Fidell proposes that an international tribunal might serve as a possible trial venue. Mr. Fidell thinks the Bush administration may eventually buckle under the international pressure to close Guantanamo, but Mr. Rivkin disagrees.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.

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