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Presumed Guilty

January 15, 2005
By Mary Shaw

Recent news reports indicate that the U.S. government is preparing to hold terror suspects indefinitely without trial, replacing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp with a permanent facility currently referred to as Camp 6.

These reports suggest that the Bush administration is seeking to extend indefinitely its misguided policies regarding the illegal detention and ill-treatment of terror suspects. This must not be tolerated. The US government must immediately end its practice of denying basic human rights to detainees.

The "war on terror" can only be won through full respect for human dignity and the rule of law. However, over the past three years, Guantanamo has become an icon of lawlessness. As it stands now, most of the 550 people detained at Guantanamo remain held without charge or trial, and without access to any court or legal counsel. These detainees are being denied their rights under international law and held in conditions which reports indicate may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Interrogation techniques authorized for use at Guantanamo have included stress positions, isolation, hooding, sensory deprivation, and the use of dogs. Among the abuses reported by FBI agents are the cruel and prolonged use of shackling, and the use of loud music and strobe lights. They have also reported witnessing the use of dogs to intimidate detainees; yet military officials, including those involved in earlier investigations, have previously given assurances that no dogs have been used in this way at the naval base.

None of the detainees have been granted prisoner of war status nor brought before a "competent tribunal" to determine their status, as required by Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention. The US government refuses to clarify their legal status, despite calls from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to do so. Instead, the Bush administration labels them "enemy combatants" or "terrorists", flouting their right to be presumed innocent and illegally presuming justification for the denial of many of their most basic human rights.

Despite these blanket allegations, several detainees have been released from the base without charge. No compensation has been offered for the many months they were illegally detained at Guantanamo.

President Bush has made it a mantra of his time in office that the US is committed to the rule of law and the "non- negotiable demands of human dignity." The US government's own National Security Strategy and National Strategy for Combating Terrorism stress that respect for such standards must be central to the pursuit of security. The administration's policy in Guantanamo, like the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, is now a notorious symbol of its failure to live up to its promises.

These practices must not be made permanent. The US government must take immediate measures to establish policies and procedures that will end the legal limbo of all detainees, ensure that all those held are charged and given fair trials or released, and guarantee that they are treated humanely, in accordance with international law.

After all, surely we would want nothing less for any of our own US citizens who might be detained by enemy forces.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She currently serves as Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. E-mail mary@maryshawonline.com.

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