Guantanamo was a mistake

Charlotee Observer
by George Daly
February 3, 2008

From George Daly, a Charlotte lawyer who represents prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba:

Six years ago the first enemy combatants in the War on Terror arrived at Guantanamo. During those six years we have discovered that a few of the Guantanamo prisoners are violent and dangerous al-Qaida terrorists, but most of them are innocent civilians who were either swept up in the fog of war when we invaded Afghanistan, or low-level Taliban who had been forcibly conscripted.

Fewer than 10 percent of Guantanamo prisoners were captured by U.S. forces. Many of the others were turned over to the CIA to collect the $5,000 bounties that were being paid for al-Qaida and Taliban suspects. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, $5,000 is several years' wages.

We need to be holding some of the prisoners at Guantanamo, but not many. Our government has plans to try only about 10 percent of them, and our six years of imprisoning the rest of them without giving them a fair trial has turned into a nightmare.

Only about a third of all the prisoners held at Guantanamo since 2002 remain. The rest have been quietly released after years of being tortured and deprived of sleep and held without trials in solitary cells and driven slowly insane. One of my clients tried to starve himself to death rather than remain at Guantanamo. Another suffers from serious mental illness.

There is no evidence that having kept them in the belly of the Guantanamo whale has made us any safer, but keeping them there has made enemies for us around the world. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison and the Iraq war are the best recruiting tools Osama bin Laden could have ever wished for. And because we declared a "war" on terror and sent our troops into Iraq, we are a trillion dollars poorer and the world sees us as an imperial bully.

How did we create such a monster?

Terrorism existed long before 9-11. The Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the network of right-wing militias come to mind, as do the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center. No "war" was declared on these terrorists. They were prosecuted under our criminal laws.

But after 9-11, terrorism was made into a military problem, a war problem, a problem that was beyond the law, rather than a criminal problem to be solved through existing legal channels. Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left office he remarked that he thought it had been a mistake to have a "war" on terror because the real situation was not a war but a "conflict ... against a relatively small number of terribly dangerous and violent extremists."

It has been a costly error. We could have saved a trillion dollars and now be living in a safer world if he had realized this in 2001 and convinced George Bush of it.

The correct way, the sane way, the genuinely American way to deal with "a relatively small number of dangerous and violent extremists" is to prosecute them in court. Our courts convicted McVeigh and the World Trade Center bombers. Our FBI knows how to get confessions without using torture. The world admires our legal system. Going back to open and public trials for suspected terrorists will start us back on the road to reclaiming the respect of the world.

Next time let's elect a president who believes in the American legal system.

Get original here.