Twin defenses of Guantanamo Bay today in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal make the case against closing this delightful vacation spot. The enthusiasm on display here is a bit odd given that the White House itself insists it considers the prison’s closure a priority. (Of course, in politics, everything is a priority.)
Both essays question-beggingly describe the 375 detainees still being held at Guantanamo as “enemy combatants.” But, of course, the whole point of insisting on trials for these prisoners is to determine whether that’s the case. What we do know is that lots of people with no connection to terror or the Taliban got swept up in Afghanistan and that insiders have characterized the hearing process as a slipshod affair rigged in favor of holding prisoners on extremely thin evidence.
As for the splendid accommodations, well, before you get on Travelocity to plan your next vacation to this little slice of heaven, take a gander at the report Amnesty International released back in April. It’s worth reading in full, but here’s the upshot:
Amnesty International believes that the conditions described in Camps 5 and 6 and Camp Echo, particularly when applied long-term or indefinitely, constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of the above standards. This conclusion is based on the isolation and prolonged cellular confinement; the conditions inside the cells including the enclosed environment and lack of any view to the outside; the lack of access to natural light and fresh air, particularly in Camp 6; the constant and allegedly intrusive observation; the paucity of possessions or equipment available to detainees; and the absence of social or external stimuli or almost any form of activity, together with minimal contact with the outside world.
Competition is stiff, but the most mind-blowingly disingenuous argument offered by the Gitmo apologists may be this passage:
Critics liken Guantánamo Bay to Soviet gulags, but reality does not match their hyperbole. The supporters of David Hicks, the detainee popularly known as the “Australian Taliban,” asserted that Mr. Hicks was mistreated and wasting away. But at his March trial, where he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization, he and his defense team stipulated he was treated properly. Mr. Hicks even thanked service members, and as one Australian newspaper columnist noted, he appeared in court “looking fat, healthy and tanned, and cracking jokes.”
Yes, well, he “stipulated” he was treated properly because that was a condition of the plea agreement that allowed him to return to Australia to serve just nine additional months on a charge of providing material support for terrorism. Under the circumstances, the stipulation is essentially meaningless. If anything, given that Hicks himself apparently believed he would have been convicted on the available evidence had he gone to trial, it should be telling that the government was willing to offer such a light sentence in exchange for Hicks’ silence. And perhaps equally telling that Gitmo’s defenders, appropriately enough, have to fall back on statements given under duress to make their case.