June 22, 2007

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call to President George W. Bush in a letter today to close immediately the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Human Rights Watch said the continued detention of hundreds of men without charge has undermined US efforts to end terrorism.

Dear President Bush:

We were pleased to hear the White House reiterate yesterday its desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, we urge you to do so “not tomorrow, but this afternoon.”

The continued detention of approximately 375 men at Guantanamo Bay, without charge and without any meaningful review of the legal basis of their detention, has directly undermined US efforts to end terrorism. The loss of moral high ground caused by the ongoing detentions at Guantanamo has been a boon to terrorist recruitment. It weakens public cooperation with law-enforcement efforts, which is far more important for cracking terrorist conspiracies than squeezing bits of information from suspects in the interrogation room years after they were captured. As Colin Powell aptly stated, Guantanamo is “doing far more damage than any good.”

We are concerned, however, by your spokesperson’s suggestion that certain steps need to be taken before the camp’s closure, including setting up military commissions in the United States, and repatriating those who have been cleared for release. Neither of these is a legitimate reason for keeping open a detention center that is undermining the important effort to curb terrorism.

US federal courts have proven far better equipped than the military commissions to fairly try and convict those persons who have committed terrorist acts. In the past five-and-a half years, the federal courts have successfully prosecuted and convicted hundreds of persons for terrorist offenses, including dozens for terrorist acts committed abroad. By comparison, the military commissions, which were first announced in November 2001, have convicted just one person – David Hicks – by guilty plea. Hicks was given a nine-month sentence and returned to his home in Australia.

It is also highly likely that military commissions – which allow the use of evidence obtained through cruel and inhuman interrogation techniques, and disregard basic confrontation rights that are written into the US Constitution – will face constitutional hurdles if carried out in the United States. Rather than going through the costly and likely futile effort of setting up an entirely new judicial system, the US government should try detainees accused of criminal offenses in the system that already has proven to work.

Moreover, there is no reason why the detainees who have already been cleared for release or transfer cannot be repatriated from the United States, rather than from Guantanamo. As you are well aware, some of the detainees, including more than a dozen Chinese Uighurs, have been cleared for release for years now, but remain at Guantanamo Bay. The United States rightly concluded that the Uighurs cannot be forcibly returned to China due to their credible fear that they will be tortured there, and no third-party country has yet been willing to accept them. There is no justification for postponing the closure of Guantanamo until after the United States finds a solution to a problem that it has been struggling with for years.

In sum, we urge you to close Guantanamo, quickly, and ensure that those currently detained there are provided their basic rights as required under international law. In so doing, you will put an end to what has become a blot on America’s reputation around the world, and help restore the moral authority needed to effectively fight terrorism.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director