Friday, June 30, 2006
Guantánamo: "The cleanest place we're holding people"
Rear Admiral Donald Guter, now dean of the Duquesne law school, was Judge Advocate General of the Navy in the years 2000-2002 when the minions of the White House were putting together a system of war crimes tribunals in which George Bush was to be cop, prosecutor, judge and executioner. The judge advocates from the service branches attempted to establish a plan to handle recently captured prisoners, but soon discovered their advice was ignored by the White House.
Michelle Block of NPR's "All Things Considered" interviewed Admiral Guter yesterday for his reaction to the Supreme Court decision that declared Bush's system of tribunals to be illegal. Admiral Guter was remarkably frank—
MICHELLE BLOCK: Do you feel you've been vindicated in some way? That the White House should have listened?
ADMIRAL GUTER: Well, I'm more comfortable with that formulation, I suppose.
I think the damage that's been done to our reputation, the damage that's been done to at least our standing with respect to the rule of law and arguing for respect for our military prisoners and others—I think that's been so diminished by what has happened and what we've done that it's hard to feel any kind of gloating over the decision.
I'm hoping that this gives us a basis to sort of return to equilibrium.
I'm not one of those people that thinks at this point we need to shut down Guantánamo—only, only because I'd like to know what the alternatives are first. There's been so much scrutiny of Guantánamo Bay, rightly so, that I think it may be, if I may use the word, the "cleanest" place we're holding people right now.
So I understand the President's desire to now close it, but I would certainly like to know what the alternatives are before I would say that that might be a good thing to do.
I think we've suffered probably irreparable harm in the international community for my lifetime and our children's lifetime, but I think this might be a chance to start fresh. [a Simply Appalling transcription]
Despite the admiral's candor, I fear that his hope that the Supreme Court decision is "a chance to start fresh" is a bit of cock-eyed optimism. This is not an administration that is going to roll over for a mere 5-3 Supreme Court decision.
"Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary"
You should be aware that the Court's decision did not find Bush's tribunals to be unconstitutional, though the Court's reliance on the 1949 Geneva Conventions treaty might prove a little sticky. In effect, it appears that all the White House needs to do is to go to Congress for post facto approval of the tribunals. Here's what White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said yesterday at the press briefing—
Even now, people are studying as carefully as they can what is a highly complex decision, trying to figure out what the ramifications are. But the President did point out, and it seems to be the point that Justice Stevens stressed from the bench today, that one of the most important things for the court, in the majority opinion today, was to get some congressional authorization. Members of Congress, including Senator Graham, on TV, have stepped forward and said that they'd be happy to work on that process.
Quite frankly, I don't know why civil libertarians and other supporters of human rights and the rule of law are so gleeful. If they think this Congress is not going to give the President the authorizations that he wants, they haven't been paying attention.
Bloomberg.com correctly assessed the situation in their headline today: Bush May Turn Legal Setback on Guantanamo Into a Political Win—
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, pledged to craft legislation addressing the court's ruling that tribunals weren't explicitly authorized by Congress and didn't adequately protect the rights of the accused. Democrats such as Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said they would cooperate.
And the cleanest prison
What is so remarkable about our news coverage—or lack thereof—is the way our reporters willfully ignore the most remarkable statements that they themselves report. Certainly Admiral Guter's warning that Guantánamo may be "the 'cleanest' place we're holding people right now" is among them. For God's sake, why didn't Michelle Block follow up on such a damning allegation?
One matter not touched upon in the news is the whereabouts and identity of the prisoners whisked away by the CIA to secret prisons in Poland and Romania. Are they still there? If not, where have they been taken? And then there are the American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was it with these prisons that Admiral Guter was comparing Guantánamo?
If you're curious, why not contact NPR and ask? I did.