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Suicides at Gitmo.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr. says the U.S. military joint task force at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is under siege - siege by suicide.

In what may be one of the most inappropriate, insensitive and inane remarks so far in the Bush administration's war on terror, Harris told reporters Sunday that the suicides by three Guantanamo inmates were a coordinated "act of asymmetric warfare" and not an act of desperation by the prisoners.

Harris should take a few moments to imagine that he was a 16-year-old Taliban or al-Qaeda conscript who was turned in to U.S. troops for a cash bounty by an Afghan warlord four years ago. Then he was flown - bound, blindfolded and gagged - from the heart of Asia to a U.S. naval base in Cuba where he was kept in solitary confinement broken only by emotionally and physically brutal interrogations.

Harris should imagine going years without contact with family or legal counsel, and with his only hope of justice being a kangaroo court of officers from the same military that is holding him captive. He should imagine what it would be like to be sexually humiliated, threatened with attack dogs and waterboarded - strapped to a board and immersed in water until he's sure he's going to drown. He should imagine what it's like to be a hunger striker who is strapped into a metal restraint chair for hours on end with plastic tubes rammed down his throat. He should imagine conditions so bleak, inhumane and devoid of hope that nearly two dozen fellow detainees attempted to kill themselves.

The time has come to close the detention center at Guantanamo, which has become a symbol of everything that's gone wrong in the war on terror. For years, Pentagon officials insisted that the prisoners at Guantanamo are "the worst of the worst." Yet only a handful have been charged with war crimes in tribunals where prisoners are not even permitted to see the evidence against them or confront their accusers. Not one of the three men who committed suicide, two Saudis ages 21 and 30 and a 28-year-old Yemeni, had been charged with a crime before they took their lives by hanging themselves with strips of cloth torn from bedding.

Many have called for the closure of Guantanamo, including a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in Congress. After Saturday's suicides, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark and a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, warned that failing to shut down the prison will compromise future U.S. efforts in the war against terror.

Even President Bush has said he wants to close Guantanamo. In a May 4 interview, he said: "I very much would like to end Guantanamo. I very much would like to get people to a court." Then he qualified that he could do neither yet because the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to rule on the legality of military tribunals for detainees.

Of course, Bush could shut down Guantanamo any time he wants, and he's using the Supreme Court case as an excuse. But that excuse will soon end after justices hear an appeal later this month brought by an inmate who was once Osama bin Laden's chauffeur.

Some of the detainees at Guantanamo are no doubt dangerous. Those who have committed crimes and pose serious risks should be charged and tried in a legitimate court of law, and the rest should be set free. Then the United States should close Guantanamo and begin the long job of restoring its reputation as a beacon of freedom, liberty and justice.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; The U.S. should close down detention center
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 13, 2006
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