In all the furor over primaries, polls and presidential candidates, I wanted to call your attention to a very important set of hearings going on right now and where you can get more information on it.
Even as the attention of most Americans — and a large part of the rest of the world— is focused on tomorrow's presidential primaries and the countdown to the end of the Bush administration, the administration continues to stubbornly defend the latest in a serious of ignominious decisions and illegal practices today in Guantánamo. I'm at the U.S. naval base this week as a human rights observer at the military commission hearings in the cases against Canadian national Omar Khadr, and Yemeni citizen Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Khadr's hearing begins today; Hamdan's hearing starts Thursday. Over the next few days, I'll be blogging about developments from the proceedings.
First, a little perspective: More than 770 men have been held at Guantánamo; the population is now down to 275. That's progress, of course, but even as the numbers go down, the costs continue to skyrocket. During the military flight to the base this Saturday, I asked a Department of Defense official how many people are now stationed there. He told me approximately 7,000: 2,500 are U.S. service personnel and the rest include what he referred to as third-party nationals — mostly Filipinos and Jamaicans — who provide the labor to keep the facilities going. How is it a wise policy choice to create an infrastructure that requires 7,000 people to imprison 275 men?
Of course, the costs to the United States are much more than financial: more significant are the moral, legal, diplomatic and political consequences of holding hundreds of prisoners in arbitrary and indefinite detention. At the heart of American values is the principle of habeas corpus, which demands due process and fair trials before an independent judiciary. The United States' system of detention and trial at Guantánamo has, for the past six years, betrayed that principle and undermined this country's historical position as an international champion of human rights and civil liberties. Read on...