Last Month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked for plans for closing the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. Clearly this was a sign that President-Elect Obama intends to carry through with his campaign promise to shut down the prison and move away from eight years of shameful policies that included torture and violations of domestic and international law.
But what happens once Guantánamo closes? Can the American justice system really handle terrorism prosecutions and all that they entail, i.e. dealing with sensitive intelligence and national security issues? Or will a “third way” have to be created, an ad-hoc detention system that effectively becomes an “on-shore” version of Guantánamo?
According to a report by Human Rights First, written by two former U.S. federal prosecutors, existing laws do provide an effective basis for detaining, monitoring and prosecuting terrorist suspects. In fact, over 100 international terrorism prosecutions over the past 15 years used these laws as their foundation. The report also found that “the justice system … continues to evolve to meet the challenge terrorism cases pose.”
The new administration must therefore resist any fear-mongering that claims the U.S. justice system is incapable and would set terrorists free. According to four leading civil and human rights organizations:
The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) outlines a comprehensive set of procedures for federal criminal cases involving classified information. Applying CIPA over the years, courts have successfully balanced the need to protect national security information, including the sources and means of intelligence gathering, with defendants’ fair trial rights.
… Federal prosecutors have an imposing array of prosecutorial weapons at their disposal, including laws that criminalize conspiring or attempting to commit homicide, harboring or concealing terrorists, and providing “material support” to terrorist organizations. The government can secure a conviction for conspiracy by showing only an agreement to commit a crime against the United States and any overt act in furtherance of that agreement. If the government cannot meet that minimal burden of proof, it is difficult to see why it should continue to detain a suspect.
No system is perfect–such a thing is impossible–but the American justice system is well tested and the foundation it provides, created over the course of its 200-plus years of history, is a better choice than any ad-hoc system.
Surely the rights and obligations embodied in the American justice system are integral to what it means to be an American. Protecting American values means upholding the rule of law and respect for human and civil rights.
Once Guantánamo closes, let it stay closed.
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