Below is my reply on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Piece of Nov. 4, 2008: Guantanamo Revelation.
I served in the military for 14 years, including three deployments to the Middle East. My last deployment was to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom and I remain deployed in Baghdad after its fall until December, 2003. As an Arabic speaker, I worked closely with Arabs of nearly all nationalities. I had many frank discussions. In discussing the difference between the US and Saddam’s Iraq, I could always point to the legal system in the US as a venue for any citizen to protest their grievances and to protect their constitutional rights. In contrast, I could discuss Saddam’s closed and often secret state security courts, arbitrary detentions, and prolonged arrest of state enemies without trial. This point became lost on Arabs after Gitmo continued to operate as it has over the last 7 years….7 years in which 775 people have been detained, approximately 250 remain in detention, and only two have faced anything resembling a trial.
If a Gulag is where Soviet officials sent enemies of the state, whether real or perceived, to some remote outpost and then removed the prisoners’ ability to challenge the legality of their detention or have a timely and fair trial, then GITMO is a gulag in all but name only. Its reputation as a gulag is not false, but well earned.
Yes, closing a gulag operated by a democratic nation with a rich history in the rule of law and civil rights will have “complexities.” But the complexities are our own creation when our government operated the farcical Camp Justice: without allowing detainees’ lawyers to have access to their clients and evidence for years after their initial detention; without being specifically accused of any crime; without habeas proceedings to challenge their prolonged detention; and, without, a timely and fair trial.
And no, the fact that some of these many detainees are really terrorists does not justify the continued operation of Gitmo and military commissions. Our country has managed quite well in the past to hold trials in our own federal criminal courts for our country’s version of the “worst of the worst:” mafia leaders, domestic terrorists, assassins, and spies. Courts have the means to consider classified evidence. Prisons have the means to hold terrorists.
We have done so in the past without the need to run America’s version of the Chateau D’If.