P.R. fiasco on Guantanamo

A judge rules prisoners cannot be transferred to Yemen as the Pentagon confirms allegations that four female interrogators sexually humiliated detainees at the base.

By Suzanne Goldenberg
Published March 14, 2005 3:05PM (EST)

The Bush administration ran into its first roadblock in its plans to sharply reduce the prison population at Guantánamo Bay over the weekend when a U.S. judge forbade the transfer of 13 inmates to Yemen for fear they would be tortured. The March 12 ruling by a U.S. federal judge in New York marks an early victory for human rights organizations in their efforts to bar the administration from carrying out plans to reduce the prison population at Guantánamo by transferring inmates to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. It bans the transfer of the Yemenis until a hearing can be held on their lawyers' request for 30 days' notice before any transfer.

"We're relieved," Marc Falkoff, a lawyer for the Yemenis, told the New York Times.

Human rights organizations say such transfers place the detainees at grave risk of torture, and lawyers have prepared a series of legal challenges to such moves. The Pentagon, however, appears equally determined to carry out the transfers, and halve the prison population at Guantánamo. Over the weekend, it rendered three inmates to Afghanistan, Maldives and Pakistan.

In recent months, the detention facility has become an increasing burden for the Bush administration. Since June of last year, a series of court decisions have overturned the administration's legal vision of the war on terror, rejecting its contention that "enemy combatants" in the war on terror can be held indefinitely. Meanwhile, a steady stream of charges from freed inmates about torture at the naval facility have made Guantánamo Bay a public relations nightmare for the Pentagon.

In the latest such revelation, Newsweek magazine reports Monday that U.S. military investigators have confirmed allegations that female military interrogators sexually humiliated prisoners at the base. Preliminary steps have been taken in preparation for the possible start of court-martial proceedings against about four female interrogators.

The alleged abuse, which took place in 2002 after Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld expressed frustration at the lack of useful intelligence emerging from Guantánamo, saw female interrogators rubbing up against inmates in an attempt to humiliate devout Muslims.

There may also be photographs of such sessions, the magazine reports, raising the prospect of a reenactment of last year's Abu Ghraib scandal.

The Pentagon appears determined to wind down Guant´namo. No new inmates have arrived at the base since last September, and the Pentagon says it intends to release or transfer custody of half of the 540 detainees now at the prison.

Suzanne Goldenberg

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