Settling in at Gitmo


Mark Follman
January 20, 2005 12:02AM (UTC)

As Bush settles in for a second term, so do detainees in the war on terror ostensibly awaiting trial. The L.A. Times reports from Cuba:

"Military officials at the sprawling U.S. prison complex here expect the number of detainees to shrink by as much as half in the next few months as hundreds are reevaluated and are likely to be released. Despite the likelihood of falling numbers, plans are moving ahead for construction and a permanent security force to replace the reservists serving as jailers at the U.S. naval base. Funds from the antiterrorism budget are being sought for a 200-bed, $25-million maximum-security prison, a state-of-the-art perimeter wall that would cut the need for military police reservists and a $1.7-million psychiatric ward for detainees.

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"Military commission trials have been put on hold as defense lawyers swarm federal courts to challenge the legal processes devised by the Pentagon to charge and try suspects. And an international human rights debate is underway over President Bush's decision that the Geneva Convention does not apply to prisoners here.

"Senior military and intelligence officials concede that many of the 558 'enemy combatants' being held here probably will be released in coming months to allow interrogators to focus on those thought to possess relevant information about the global terror network.

"'The majority of individuals here today are not of intelligence value to me,' said Steve Rodriguez, the civilian head of intelligence at the naval base. Even with unlimited resources to pursue interrogations, Rodriguez said, he wouldn't advocate keeping them jailed.

"'It's to our advantage to have people released or transferred,' he said, because it sends a message to the noncompliant when they see a fellow detainee who was more cooperative walk out.

"Rodriguez, as well as other officials who spoke on condition they not be identified, noted that being deemed of little intelligence value doesn't necessarily translate into freedom. 'It's not only what intelligence value an individual possesses but what threat he posses,' Rodriguez said. For instance, he asked, would the military want to release a suspected body guard for Osama bin Laden who then might return to the fight against America?"

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Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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