Friday, March 23, 2007

Will Guantanamo go with Gonzales?

The Guantanamo detention center has become a black eye for the United State to friends and foes alike. The secretive goings on at this off-shore base has become a symbol of how the United States has turned its back on the American tradition (or perception) of justice. As a result, recent confessions of al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed have been met with almost indifference due to the lack of credibility of U.S. interrogators.

It would then seem quite obvious that Guantanamo has become a liability and it is in the U.S. interest to shut it down as soon as possible. In fact, as reported in today’s New York Times, that is exactly what Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to do soon after he replaced Donald Rumsfeld. Unfortunately, President Bush chose to ignore Gates and instead took the advice of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to keep the facility active. Gonzales, of course, has been instrumental in determining White House policies regarding Geneva Convention protections for prisoners, the redefinition of torture and warrantless domestic eavesdropping program among others that have damaged America’s reputation.

However, there is still hope. With the growing likelihood Gonzales will be shown the door, the issue of closing the Guantanamo detention facility may have a second chance.

This from the New York Times:
In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantánamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

The base at Guantánamo holds about 385 prisoners, among them 14 senior leaders of Al Qaeda, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who were transferred to it last year from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Pentagon’s current plans, some prisoners, including Mr. Mohammed, will face war crimes charges under military trials that could begin later this year.

“The policy remains unchanged,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Even so, one senior administration official who favors the closing of the facility said the battle might be renewed.

“Let’s see what happens to Gonzales,” that official said, referring to speculation that Mr. Gonzales will be forced to step down, or at least is significantly weakened, because of the political uproar over the dismissal of United States attorneys. “I suspect this one isn’t over yet.”
You can read the entire article here.

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