Civil Liberties Crime and Punishment Guantanamo National Politics

Writing Guantanamo


In the upcoming April 17 issue of the New York Review of Books,
veteran investigative reporter Raymond Bonner reviews four books that cover aspects of Guantanamo. But as is often the case for the best NY Review of Books stories, Bonner’s piece is less review than it is a comprehensive essay on the issue that the books generally cover—which is, in this instance, the ghastly moral and legal bungling that has characterized the Bush administration’s handling of terrorists suspects both at Guantanamo Bay and the various “black sites” that we, the lowly American public, have learned about only in disturbing dribs and drabs.

Here’s the opening of Bonner’s essay:

On February 11, 2008, the Pentagon announced that charges were being filed against six men in connection with the September 11 attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the attacks and one of al-Qaeda’s most senior members, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a leader of the Hamburg cell that included several of the September 11 pilots. It has taken nearly seven years for these men to be indicted—while more than 240 other prisoners continue to remain at Guantánamo in a state of indefinite detention without charge. In contrast, Britain, after one of the longest and most expensive trials in its history, has already convicted and sentenced four men for the failed attacks on the London subway on July 21, 2005.

Last year, British officials also arrested
three other men for involvement in the deadly attacks on three London subway lines and a bus on July 7, 2005, two weeks earlier; they are scheduled to go on trial at the end of March. Spain has convicted twenty-one of twenty-eight men charged in connection with the terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004; and Indonesia has held lengthy trials and convicted four men who were accused of the terrorist attacks in Bali in October 2002, two of whom have been sentenced to death, and two to life imprisonment.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a guiding principle of the American criminal justice system. The Bush administration has ignored this principle with impunity, and America’s image abroad has suffered greatly as a result.

The administration could have avoided much of the criticism
it has received for its handling of terrorism suspects. It didn’t have to listen to the civil libertarians and human rights lawyers. All it needed to do was heed the advice of the country’s military lawyers…..

As the Bush administration, in the weeks
after the September 11 attacks, began hurriedly drafting rules to try suspects, the most senior military lawyers, from all four services, were “appalled” at the lack of rights that the administration proposed granting the defendants….

Bonner’s essay goes a lot further, including references to what the three presidential candidates have been willing to say—and not say—about Guantanamo and torture. For example there’s this:

“Only Obama makes a point in his speeches
that he would restore habeas corpus for Guantánamo prisoners,,” writes Bonner. “It generally brings loud applause.”


  • I wish that liberals were as concerned and wrote as many books about the horrible crimes committed in the name of Islam.

  • I wish that Woody and other so-called conservatives were as concerned with our good name as they are with feeling macho. Committing crimes against human ity doesn’t help the cause and, as a recent book on Stalin points out, it is now the good old USA that kidnaps people around the world, throws them into a Gulag, has kangaroo courts, etc.

    Too many Gitmo prisoners have no charges against them and at least one – the German – seems to have been kept in years aafter being cleared for no other reason than to keep the world from finding out the horrors there.

    Bush and Cheney are, by any sane definition, war criminals and should have been given the “Pinochet Option” years ago. But we have become a scared nation of totalitarian leaning sheep.


  • Comparing U.S. detention facilities to the Russian Gulags is to make light of the horrible crimes committed by the communists and the true sufferings of their victims. It’s the same old liberal line…”Sure Hitler and Stalin were bad, but the U.S. is worse.”

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