Arab News Editorial: End the scandal of Guantanamo

Some things are easier said than done, among them the closure of the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay, that has done so much to besmirch the reputation of the US around the world. There is scant doubt that President Bush was sincere in saying on several occasions over the last few years that he wanted to have done with the place. But his administration soon discovered the practical problems that closure would raise, and concluded that it could not do it. President-elect Barack Obama, however, says he will — and he must, as one of his first acts when he takes office in nine weeks’ time. Currently about 250 terrorist suspects are held at the prison. Of them about 50 have been cleared for release but would face persecution if sent home to their countries of origin, and the US has found no one else willing to take them. A similar number may be genuine terrorists. The rest probably fall into a gray area — suspects picked up on or around the battlefield, sometimes in murky circumstances, against whom the evidence is unclear. During the campaign Obama called Guantanamo a “sad chapter in American history,” noting that the military tribunals — in effect kangaroo courts — set up by the Bush administration have not worked. Indeed some military prosecutors have even resigned in protest at the system. His advisers are now working on a plan whereby the detainees would be transferred to the US. Some would be released, others given open trials in existing civilian courts, while special courts would be set up to handle the most sensitive cases. The proposal is generally supported by legal experts. But objections have been raised at both ends of the political spectrum. Many Republicans say terrorist suspects cannot be brought to the US mainland. Liberal Democrats insist that the existing legal system can do the job. Neither argument withstands scrutiny.

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