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May 7, 2006
Bush: We'll Close Gitmo Jail

George Bush told a German interviewer today that he wants to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay but must await a Supreme Court decision on how to try the remaining detainees. Reuters reports from the transcript of the television station ARD that Bush insists that detainees will get their day in court:

President George W. Bush said on Sunday he would like to close the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay -- a step urged by several foreign leaders -- but was awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on where suspects held there might be tried. ...

Bush was asked by the German public television station ARD how the United States could restore its human-rights image following reports of prisoner abuse.

"Of course Guantanamo is a delicate issue for people. I would like to close the camp and put the prisoners on trial," Bush said in comments to be broadcast on Sunday night.

"Our top court must still rule on whether they should go before a civil or military court. They will get their day in court. One can't say that of the people that they killed. They didn't give these people the opportunity for a fair trial."

This is the first real notice of an intent to shut down the facility since it first opened during the war against the Taliban. Gitmo still holds 480 prisoners, some of whom would be released but cannot be returned to their home countries due to the strong probability of persecution. For instance, a handful of Chinese Uighers -- Muslims in the far west of China -- had qualified for release but could not be sent to China, which fights the Uigher separatists. Albania agreed to accept them instead just this week.

The rest of the Gitmo detainees will face trial in military or civilian court. Until now, the timeframe for those trials was unknown, but if the report from Reuters is accurate, they could begin in months. It would end the controversial use of the naval station at Gitmo to house captured terrorist suspects not killed in battle. That may take some diplomatic heat off of the Bush administration, and if the base can be closed quickly, might help in garnering more stable support for the US initiative against Iran. It could also impact the November elections, if carried out quickly enough.

However, we still have a need to detain terrorists when found that doesn't shunt them into the criminal justice system. We saw the results of that with the farcical trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. All such trials provide is a platform for the political diatribes of the Islamists and yet another chance to manipulate the media to get their message of hate out to their followers. Criminal trials in civil settings assign a status to terrorists that belie their declaration of war on the West. Military tribunals perform effectively enough and still provide justice for those within that system, without giving them a megaphone for their lunacy.

Addendum: I undertook a study of the Gitmo records a few months back. Some of those records got corrupted in an e-mail meltdown (Thunderbird), and I will need a lot of hours to rescue them. I do plan on doing that when I have a couple of days to concentrate on the project. I apologize to those who have waited patiently for the results and those who gave me such wonderful assistance.

One other note: Last year, I attempted to gain access as a journalist to visit Gitmo and provide a first-hand report to CQ readers. I purchased plane tickets and made the arrangements for time off to do so. In the end, however, the military would not recognize bloggers as legitimate journalists, not even after the Weekly Standard allowed me to identify myself as a free-lance writer for their on-line magazine. I had hoped to present a more realistic picture of the detention center as well as the life of our men and women stationed on their corner of Cuba, but I respect the security decision made by the military. Hopefully we can establish our credibility the next time such a situation occurs.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 7, 2006 11:14 AM

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