Gitmo "terrorists" may be released

Published July 2, 2004 8:54PM (EDT)

Every now and then, it's good to get a fresh reminder of why suspects are presumed innocent in this country. Case in point: Donald Rumsfeld's office just announced today that the Pentagon might release some of the prisoners locked up in a military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they have been held virtually incommunicado for months or years. Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration like John Ashcroft justified the inmates' detention by calling them security risks, even terrorists. Ashcroft didn't even change his tune after last week's crushing Supreme Court ruling, which required the government to give Gitmo prisoners access to civilian courts. Here's what he had to say then: "The Supreme Court accorded to terrorists, in a variety of cases this week, a number of additional rights." Terrorists? Really?

Days later, the Pentagon is admitting that many of the detainees may very well be harmless. The Associated Press reports: "Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told a news conference that no final decisions have been made about how the government will respond to Supreme Court decisions this week requiring that detainees be given a way to challenge their incarceration."

"But he said it was possible that if it could be determined some people need not be held then they also 'need not necessarily be part of a judicial process.'"

"Di Rita referred to the Pentagon's newly adopted system for annually reviewing each of the nearly 600 detention cases at Guantanamo Bay. Under that system, a panel of three military officers would assess each case, but the detainees would not be represented by lawyers."

"'If there are people who can be released after some due process of review that we've established, it's worth considering whether that's the right next thing to do,' Di Rita said." It seems the time for "due process" passed years ago.

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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