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Not Gettin' It on Gitmo

Reported by Judy - June 16, 2005

Does John Gibson really not get it, or is he just playing stupid? By "it," I mean the controversy over the prison at Guantanamo Bay for fighters captured in Afghanistan. On "The Big Story" on Wednesday (June 15), Gibson himself praised Guantanamo Bay as "a great American institution" and interviewed a Republican senator who praised it as a "wonderful facility" that is in a great spot "right on the water."

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made Guantanamo Bay sound like a Caribbean resort as he defended the Bush administration policy of holding the Afghani prisoners indefinitely without benefit of charges or trial.

"Prisoners of war are always kept until the war is concluded. That's been the history of warfare since the beginning. These do not even qualify as normal prisoners of war because they are unlawful combatants. They're on the sort of people that operrate outside of law. They do not wear uniforms. They attack civilians and innocent personnel, not just miltary targets. They are the worst of the worst," Sessions said.

Sessions, of course, was wrong in saying that prisoners of war are always kept until the war is over. Warring parties often have exchanged prisoners during a conflict. Thousands were exchanged between the North and the South in the American civil war, for example.

More troubling, however, is Sessions' claim that these people should be detained until the war is over. In the Fox News report leading up to the Sessions interview, Mike Emmanuel noted that "many people believe the war on terror will never end." Under Sessions' line of thinking, a never-ending war means that prisoners in that war will never be released. Yet Gibson never bothered to press him on that point. (Nor did he interview any of the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was the panel holding hearings on Gitmo earlier that same day.)

Sessions praised the prison facility not only for its ocean view, but for its medical care, and noted that some 200 prisoners have been released since it was opened.

The Bush administration, of course, fought tooth and nail against reviewing the cases of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners which resulted in those releases. If it were up to the Bushies, all 200 of them would still be there, being held indefinitely along with the remaining 520.

In his "My Word" segment concluding his show, Gibson justified Guantanamo Bay as essential to the defense of Americans from terrorists plotting to kill them.

"You've got 600 terrorists where you want them -- with your boot on their neck -- and you want to let them up and go on their way? Does that make any sense? What is the point of granting rights to people who want to use those rights to take your rights away by killing you? What is the point of pulling our forelock before the skirt of the Blind Lady of Justice if she's so damn blind she can't even tell when we're about to release people who have always wanted nothing more than to kill us?" wrote Gibson.

"Who is going to answer to the people who are killed next time if the people who do the killing are the ones we had in Gitmo and let go?"

Gibson concluded that Americans should "wise up. Come July 4th, celebrate Gitmo, a great American institution."

There is nothing "American" about an institution that holds people indefinitely without charge, on the unproven assumption that they are terrorists. The "point of granting rights to people" who may be guilty of trying to kill you is that the government might be wrong about them. If the government can show some reasonable evidence that these people are a threat, fine.

Gibson vastly overstates the position of Guatanamo Bay critics when he says they just want to let them go. Judicial reviews of some 200 of the remaining prisoners are underway. Speed them up, give the world an accounting of who remains and why they must be held. Figure out a way to charge them -- and future irregular combatants in this nebulous war on terror -- with a crime under U.S. or (horrors!) international law, give them a day in court, and resolve the matter.

We did that even for the Hitler henchmen. Not to do it for Gitmo prisoners guarantees that, if they weren't anti-American terrorists when they went it, they will be when they get out, a day that will surely come whether the Bush administration wants it to or not.

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