January 21st, 2009
09:18 AM ET

The Gitmo Blowback

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/21/guantanamo.hearings/art.gitmo.tower.gi.jpg caption="A guard keeps watch from a tower at the military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."]

Paula Newton
CNN London Correspondent

The orange jumpsuits, the barbed wire, the ‘redacted' files. President Obama may be able to make it all history by closing Guantanamo Bay, but their affect on American justice will be profound.

Moazzam Begg, a former British inmate who was released in 2005, has always stressed to me that during torture and detention he would have confessed to anything. And that is the heart of the legal problem now facing the new administration.

"Guantanamo Bay is the most notorious prison on earth," says Begg, who believes Guantanamo is a radicalizing force for militants around the world.

Former inmates like Begg have joined a chorus of U.S. officials saying the prison, that many have criticized as, in effect, ‘above the law,' could now cripple the chances of bringing those who are truly dangerous to justice.

"What procedure can you use on people who have been systematically tortured, including water-boarding, including being stripped naked and beaten. What sort of evidence can be admitted into a court of law that has been extracted under that process?" says Begg.

The Bush Administration has always denied that it tortured prisoners, saying its treatment of prisoners complied with international law.

President Obama ordered the U.S. government to suspend prosecutions of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for 120 days, military officials said Tuesday. During his inaugural speech, Obama stressed he would seek the moral high ground.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediency's sake."

Critics of Guantanamo say that even after it is closed, its biting legacy may be that a place designed to keep us safe from terror, may actually make us less so.

Legal issues complicate the cases against even the most important terror suspects like Mohammed Al-Qahtani, the so called 20th high-jacker. Earlier this month, a Guantanamo judge admitted that Al-Qahtani was tortured and could not therefore be put forward for prosecution. But can the U.S. really set him free?

And beyond high profile suspects, human rights campaigners say there is little evidence to prosecute dozens of Guantanamo inmates still being held. They argue, keeping those detainees locked up will not help keep Al Qaeda at bay.

"I think it's actually one of the most harmful myths about it, that we can't let people go because we've got the tiger by the tail. I've met over 20 people and in my experience it's just not true," says Cori Crider of the human rights organization Reprieve.

For the new administration, closing Guantanamo could just be the beginning of a real headache: How to prosecute terror suspects within the American legal system and if you can't, how do you create a whole new legal framework to keep them locked up without a conviction?

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    I really don't want those criminals here, on American soil. If there is a better solution, do tell. The fact is that you can't blame the base, you must point a finger at the personnel running the security and the designer of the methods utilized. Make an assessment, improve, move on. If anyone knows of a book published on prison morales....and yes, the Commander in Chiif!

    January 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  2. Alan

    To all those who support Guantanamo prison, or any kind of military concentration camp: Thank you for demonstrating that the dark side of human beings is alive and well. Thank you for paving the way for the election of Barack Obama. Abraham Lincoln said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilence". You have helped the majority of Americans to realize that prisons of this kind are immoral and unconstitutional. We, the one's who want to end this travesty, must always keep our eyes open and stop the small minded people who are ready to sacrifice our freedoms and rights for the sake of security. Have any of you asked yourself, "Why is this prison in Cuba and not on American soil?" Could it be that to keep people in jail, without charge, without legal assistence or contact with family and friends, would never be allowed on U.S. territory. Do you seriously believe that every single person who was ever incarcerated at Guantanimo was guilty? Now pretend you are that one innocent person.
    Still think it's a good idea? If you do, then I hope that someday you are arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and spend hours, or days, or weeks, or years asking yourself why you are being waterboarded.

    January 21, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  3. Arachnae

    how do you create a whole new legal framework to keep them locked up without a conviction?

    Simple answer – you can't. It is inconceivable to keep individuals not found guilty of a crime locked up forever. To do so is despotism. I can't believe this is even being discussed.

    if the questioning of the prisoners have so contaminated the evidence that it cannot be used in their trials, they have to be released, however guilty they may be. EVERY police force in the US understands this. If they then go on to commit more terror against us, those that made their trials and convictions impossible will have to bear some of their guilt.

    We let guilty people go all the time in the American justice system because of prosecution mistakes. It's unfortunate, but to do otherwise is a shortcut to tyranny.

    January 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm |
  4. LJRoy

    What, and release them back into society (either ours or their own)? If they're migrated into our prision system, they're just going to "preach" their terrorist beliefs on other prisoners unless each and every one are put into absolute solitary confinement (peachy choice!). And that's for life (NO dealth penalty though under ANY circumstances). Let them stay where they are. If they can no longer be locked up, just let them be isolated on the island on their own with no help from anyone at anytime.

    Besides, these terrorists aren't different from those who perform abortions (including those who take birth control pills which CAN cause abortions. Yes, even women who take Plan B is a terrorist--to her own unborn child!!!!!!!!

    Killing is killing no matter who does it or for why (justified or not). It's not just right, it's immoral. The commandment says "Thou Shall Not Kill" period. Not " .....unless a) b) c) d) or e)"

    From conception to natural death. From womb to tomb.

    January 21, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  5. lois

    Closing it will not FIX anything.

    January 21, 2009 at 11:27 am |
  6. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT


    The GENEVA CONVENTION which was authored and SIGNED by the United States of America FORBIDS TORTURE!

    The GENEVA CONVENTION was put in place by the USA and its Allies after WWII precisely to keep governments from torturing POWs!

    When Bush/Cheney broke the LAWS of the GENEVA CONVENTION (Google this and learn!) they are consider war criminals!

    There have been SEVERAL Gitmo prisoners set free because they were unfairly imprisoned!

    January 21, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  7. Heather,ca

    Think about all the families who watched the planes and the towers. What about the victims who were murdered by terrorists who no regard for human life.

    January 21, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  8. Teresa, OH

    @Cindy: "Do we really want them in with the criminals here to spread their propaganda!? I don’t!!"

    Amen !

    January 21, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  9. Teresa, OH

    @Tim Kelly: I'm sure there are more options: do you have anything in mind? PLEASE SHARE.

    As for people shedding tears for poor dogs "in the care" of Vick: dogs and animals are innocent of human filth. They were born free and yet we imprison they animals as our "pets". Pets depend entirely on us for their care, food, health, and well-being. No offense, but I doubt anyone in GItmo is totally innocent and imprisoned unfairly.

    While torture is wrong, ALL TORTURE, maybe we should be like the countries we fight with and simply kill all prisoners therefore, saving on money, food, healthcare, and court fees?

    January 21, 2009 at 10:50 am |
  10. Tim Kelly

    Torture? hmmm. There must be another option we aren't considering.

    It seems a bit inhumane, dontcha think?. We shed a tear for those poor dogs that were in the care of Michael Vick, but don't give a darn about another human being being tortured because we "think" we can extract information that will give us a competitive or military advantage.

    Remember, there once was a time when we thought slavery was okay. Looking back we all looked like a bunch on inhumane savages for such thinking. Years from now are we going to regret the concept of military torture?

    There must be another option we are not considering.

    January 21, 2009 at 10:03 am |
  11. Tim Kelly

    Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword!

    January 21, 2009 at 9:56 am |
  12. Cindy

    Closing Gitmo isn't going to solve any problems. Actually it'll just make more because then these people will use our court system and more of our money to drag their feet and keeping these trials going and going.

    And where are they going to put all of these men? They'll have to stay there until somewhere is found? Do we really want them in with the criminals here to spread their propaganda!? I don't!!


    January 21, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  13. Bill Skeat

    Close Gitmo. Bring them to the US and jail them in a secure site on a military base. Hold trials for them in military courts and, if found guilty, give them 30-40 years. They are too dangerous to let loose.

    January 21, 2009 at 9:37 am |