innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, June 30, 2006

Uncertainty at Guantanamo

This article ran in the N.Y. Times on Friday, June 30, 2006.

Ruling Leaves Uncertainty at Guantánamo

Officials may soon begin to look harder for an alternative site for the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

Published: June 30, 2006
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba, June 29 — As the Supreme Court prepared to rule on the Bush administration's plan to try terror suspects before special military tribunals here, the commander of Guantánamo's military detention center was asked what impact the court's decision might have on its operations.

"If they rule against the government, I don't see how that is going to affect us," the commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, said Tuesday evening as he sat in a conference room in his headquarters. "From my perspective, I think the direct impact will be negligible."

The Defense Department repeated that view on Thursday, asserting that the court's sweeping ruling against the tribunals did not undermine the government's argument that it can hold foreign suspects indefinitely and without charge, as "enemy combatants" in its declared war on terror.

Privately, though, some administration officials involved in detention policy — along with many critics of that policy — were skeptical that Guantánamo could or would go about its business as before. "It appears to be about as broad a holding as you could imagine," said one administration lawyer, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the ruling. "It's very broad, it's very significant, and it's a slam."

For the moment, the effect of the court's ruling on the detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo is likely to be as political as it is practical.

Construction crews went to work Thursday morning as usual at Camp Six, putting final touches on a hulking, $24 million concrete structure that is to be the permanent, medium-security facility for terror detainees.

President Bush and other officials have said repeatedly of late that they have yet to find a better place to incarcerate the dangerous men still held at Guantánamo, and there is no indication that the administration has seriously begun to widen its consideration of those possibilities.

But administration officials said Thursday that they would have no choice but to start thinking anew about the problem.

Over the last six weeks, the military custodians at Guantánamo have been rocked by desperate protests — the suicides of three detainees who hanged themselves from the steel-mesh walls of their small cells, the intentional drug overdoses of at least two other prisoners, and a riot against guards in a showcase camp for the most compliant detainees. Those events, in turn, set off new waves of criticism of the camp from foreign governments, legal associations and human rights groups.

Thursday, in rejecting the administration's elaborate plan to try Guantánamo detainees by military commission, as the tribunals are called, the court struck at one of the first ramparts the administration built to defend itself against criticism that Guantánamo was a "black hole" in which men declared to be enemies of the United States were stripped of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

"It strengthens calls for solving 'the Guantánamo problem,' " the administration lawyer said.
"Not because it deals with the detention issue directly, but because it removes the argument that soon there would be more legal process there."

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