Our guest blogger is Ken Gude, the Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, the former commander of the Joint Task Force overseeing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, claims the conditions at Guantanamo are far better than general impression of the prison camp. He’s right, even objective accounts from neutral observers about the physical conditions at Guantanamo describe an improved living environment.
Of course, it demonstrates how bad things were when you take to the pages of a major national newspaper to claim credit for doing what you are supposed to be doing—it is the responsibility of the detaining power to provide humane and secure conditions of confinement. But the problems at Guantanamo are much deeper than calories or comforts; all the air conditioning and movies will not change the fact that many of these detainees have been held for more than six years without any meaningful opportunity to contest the lawfulness of their detention in an impartial hearing.
All the good work to try and improve conditions at Guantanamo is undone when one of the judges in the military commissions who had started to show some independence is fired. Just last week, Col. Peter Brownback was removed from the case of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr after he resisted pressure from prosecutors to set an early trial date, insisting they provide the defense access to potential evidence.
The chief judge, Col. Ralph Kohlmann, claimed that Brownback’s dismissal had nothing to do with his rulings in the Khadr case, and that may be true. But here is where Kohlmann and Buzby and the Pentagon and the Bush administration fail to grasp the nature of the problem: the perception of Guantanamo is fixed with the constant stream of negative stories amplified drowning out the examples of positive change. There is no rehabilitation of Guantanamo; the only pathway back to respectability is to close Guantanamo and start over.