Gitmo closure should result in detainees’ release

Those calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison should have been more specific. Washington seems to be preparing to shut down the facility, but plans to keep the inmates – surely not precisely what human rights advocates had in mind.

According to an Associated Press report on Saturday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush’s top aides are in active discussions about closing Guantanamo. The major concern appears to be where the prisoners will go. Tentative plans include the release of 80 detainees, the transfer of several dozen Afghans to their government’s Pul-e-Charki prison complex, and the transfer of the remainder to facilities on U.S. soil. Guantanamo currently holds 375 detainees.

While closing the infamous prison is a terrific step forward for American foreign policy, those planning to shuffle the prisoners around seem to miss a fundamental point: we shouldn’t be holding these individuals in the first place. The U.S. military has intentions to prosecute 60 to 80 of the current detainees, and claims that 200 are too dangerous to release or still have intelligence value. Well, there is no legal standing for prosecution, given that the individuals were not detained legally, and the idea that intelligence value is justification for unlawful imprisonment is frightening at best. Danger is a legitimate concern, but surely our ever-soaring military spending can provide sufficient safeguards against known threats.

Even as limited as it is, the prison-shuffling plan faces problems. Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi, the chief spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said that no Afghans had been transferred despite U.S. claims that such transfers would take place by the end of April 2007. The report also said Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and the Justice department are resisting efforts to transfer prisoners to U.S.-based facilites, “where they would be afforded more legal rights and might pose a threat.”

This is the sort of reactionary thinking that started the Gitmo fiasco in the first place. If the prisoners are transferred to other secure facilities, they can hardly pose a threat, and the fact that they will be afforded more legal rights is the only thing that makes the current plans worthwhile.

Perino, who claimed that Bush was determined to see Guantanamo Bay shut down, said, “America does not have any intention of being the world’s jailer.” If this is truly the case, Washington officials should consider that a jail is jail, no matter the location, and arrange for the release of those America had no business jailing to begin with.