The big Gitmo debate

Shut it down, or just shut up?

By Mark Follman
Published June 9, 2005 10:34PM (EDT)

Former President Jimmy Carter said it's time to shut down the U.S. military prison in Cuba: "The U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation ... because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo."

Sen. Joe Biden said Guantanamo is "the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world," and agreed it should be closed.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said fat chance: "I know of no one in the U.S. government, in the executive branch, that is considering closing Guantanamo."

President Bush called allegations of abuse there "absurd," but also said shuttering Gitmo could in fact be on the table, that his administration is "exploring all alternatives" for detaining prisoners.

Carter added that Amnesty International should not have called the prison "the gulag of our time" in a report last month.

William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International's U.S. office, clarified that the comparison of Guantanamo to the Soviet prison system was "not an exact or literal" one: "People are not being starved in those facilities. They're not being subjected to forced labor. But there are some similarities. The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons into which people are being literally disappeared."

Rumsfeld conceded that the U.S. would rather wash its hands of detainees anyway: "Our desire is not to have these people. ... Our goal is to have them in the hands of the countries of origin, for the most part."

Former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht said the goal should actually be to keep them in our own hands, even if we have to torture them ourselves.

And what does the American public think? Harder to say.

Mark Follman

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

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