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Powell: Close Guantanamo Now, Restore Habeas

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"Powell: Close Guantanamo Now, Restore Habeas"

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This morning on NBC’s Meet the Press, Gen. Colin Powell strongly condemned the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, calling it “a major problem for America’s perception” and charging, “if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo — not tomorrow, this afternoon.”

He also called for an end to the military commission system the Bush administration has created to try Guantanamo detainees. “I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system,” Powell said. He scoffed at criticism that the detainees would have access to lawyers and the writ of habeas corpus: “So what? Let them. Isn’t that what our system’s all about?”

“[E]very morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds,” Powell said. “[W]e have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open… We don’t need it, and it’s causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.”

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/06/powellcol610.320.240.flv]

Powell also sounded off on conservatives, including Vice President Cheney, who oppose diplomacy with Syria and Iran, calling their view “short-sighted.” Powell endorsed direct talks “not to solve a particular problem or crisis of the moment or the day, but just to have dialogue with people who are involved in this region in so many ways.”

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Transcript:

POWELL: But in this arc, which is centered now in Iraq, we have serious difficulties. Serious difficulties that have to be resolved, one, by getting this civil war resolved, and it’s going to take the Iraqis to do that. Two, I believe we should be talking to all of Iraq’s neighbors. I think we should be talking to Iran, we should be talking to Syria, not to solve a particular problem or crisis of the moment or the day, but just to have dialogue with people who are involved in this region in so many ways. And so I think it is short-sighted not to talk to Syria and Iran and everybody else in the region, and not just for the purpose of making a demand on them, and “I’ll only talk to you if you meet the demand I want to talk to you about.” That’s not the way to have a dialogue in my judgment.

RUSSERT: Guantanamo. Torture. When John McCain was seeking ways to deal with the issue of torture, you wrote him a letter and said this: “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

POWELL: Right.

RUSSERT: What do you mean?

POWELL: They are. Guantanamo has become a major, a major problem for America’s perception — as it’s seen, the way the world perceives America. And if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo — not tomorrow, this afternoon. I’d close it. And I’d not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well, then they’ll have access to lawyers, then they’ll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn’t that what our system’s all about? And by the way, America, unfortunately, has too many people in jail, all of whom had lawyers and access to writs of habeas corpus. And so we can handle bad people in our system. And so I would get rid of Guantanamo and I’d get rid of the military commissions system, and use established procedures in federal law or in the manual for courts martial. I would do that because it’s more equatable and it’s more understandable in constitutional terms. But I’d also do it because every morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. So essentially we have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don’t need it, and it’s causing us far more damage than any good we get for it. But remember what I started this discussion saying, don’t let any of them go. Put them in a different system, a system that is experienced, that knows how to handle people like this.

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