Men, not dogs

February 03, 2005

HOW MANY court rulings does it take before the Bush administration does the right thing? Inmates held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continue to languish, albeit in ever-nicer prisons, as the Justice Department and the Pentagon fiddle.

One might be forgiven for assuming that the Supreme Court's decision last June that Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their open-ended incarceration by appealing to the federal courts would have started that process. But seven months later, those appeals haven't begun - and the argument is still whether or not they should.

The Bush administration will not accept defeat; perhaps it expects to win by eternally stalling the process. The Pentagon has dawdled for a year already on base officials' requests to release about 100 inmates who the officials say are not a threat and don't have any secrets to tell.

Guantanamo commanders estimate that up to 40 percent of the base's 549 current inmates probably fit the "release" criteria, according to The Wall Street Journal. They also say that not being able to offer prisoners release - or a release date in the future - as a benefit of cooperation makes it harder to get them to cooperate. No one is helped by the administration's contention that these incarcerations could well be life-long, or as long as the "war on terror" lasts, which could be a while yet.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department offers round-the-bend legal arguments that while detainees can challenge their confinement, judges aren't qualified to hear the challenges. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, ruling on 11 connected cases, rejected that argument, saying that the ersatz military tribunals the Pentagon whipped up after the June Supreme Court decision aren't constitutional and that federal judges should decide whether each detention is legal. But on Jan. 19, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, in the same D.C. courthouse, in response to two similar cases, accepted the administration's logic. The saga continues.

Besides following centuries of common law, the military's poor treatment of the people in its custody is the strongest argument for civilian review. The stories of abuse, torture - or merely near-torture, if you like - continue. We read about it in Red Cross and FBI reports released by request of the American Civil Liberties Union, and hear about it from former prisoners and from lawyers for current prisoners. Now we hear of videos showing an all-women prisoner restraint squad handling prisoners who look at them in terror.

There is little doubt that some of the men held at the naval base for up to three years are or supported terrorists. There is great doubt that all of them are such men. There is no doubt that they are men.

They should be treated as men.

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