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The Guantanamo Hyatt By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, where Taliban and al-Qaeda members continue to be held as “unlawful combatants,” continues to attract charges of human rights abuses from the Left. Yet the mothers of eight Russian prisoners the U.S. is holding there have now “begged Washington not to extradite their sons to answer terror charges in Russia, fearing that conditions in their jails and judicial system are even worse than those at Camp Delta.” “In Guantanamo they treat him humanely and the conditions are fine,” the mother of one of them has said. Her son has written her that “there is no health resort in Russia that can compare.” And more :” Nina Odizheva, the mother of Ruslan, 29, from Kabardino-Balkaria, wrote several times to the US ambassador, Alexander Vershbow, begging Washington to resist Moscow's calls for extradition.. …..Ruslan wrote to his mother that at Camp Delta "what we see around us is a complete miracle." (“Russian mothers plead for sons to stay in Guantanamo,” Nick Paton Walsh, The Guardian, August 9).

Indeed, the Red Cross has expressed no concern over the detainees’ treatment. But this does not stop Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations—that, unlike the Red Cross, do not have access to the detainees—from charging human rights abuses.

Except for the few facts that have been provided by the Pentagon, all we really know about Camp Delta comes from second-hand media reports, reports by detainees who have already been released (some 15 so far, all Afghans and Pakistanis), and letters from detainees to their relatives. There are some 640 detainees at Guantanamo, citizens of some 40 countries.

There are some 640 detainees at Guantanamo, citizens of some 40 countries on all continents. While all figures are approximate, it seems that the largest group are Saudis, some 127 of them; 37 Yemenis, 42 Pakistanis, 17 Moroccans, 7 Kuwaitis,  6 Algerians, 11 Turks, 4 Bahrainis, 8 Russians, some 14 from Western Europe (Britons, Swedes, Belgians, French, Spanish, Danes), some Uzbeks and 2 Australians. Some have been interrogated by the intelligence services of their native countries, and all have been by the United States. Virtually all are Moslems, with educational levels ranging from illiterates to advanced degree holders.

U.S. law actually does not apply in Guantanamo, which is sovereign Cuban territory (though Fidel Castro has stated that he has no objection to the United States’ using the base for terrorist detention). This does not help the confusion that already exists surrounding the remedies to terrorism available under “international law,” but there is no reason, or excuse, for the West to let this inevitable confusion deteriorate into complete chaos.

While most were captured during the 2001 war in Afghanistan, many were arrested subsequently in Pakistan, Africa, or Southeast Asia. Whether because their nations’ governments fear reprisals and/or because their legal or prison systems are inadequate, it appears those governments were happy not to have to deal with their Islamic terrorists and to be able instead to dump their terrorist hot potatoes into Uncle Sam’s lap.

President Bush recently made it known that six unnamed Guantanamo detainees, who it was later established were British and Australian citizens, would be brought before U.S. military tribunals. Under pressure from London, Washington then assured that the British detainees would not be subject to the death penalty, nor would the Australian, David Hicks—one of the most violent of the lot. That, of course, opens the door for other governments to demand similar treatment for “their” terrorists (as the Saudis already have) and transforms the soon-to-be-established military tribunals into a political circus.

But of course, Camp Delta has already become something of a circus. Sweden’s security police chief has described 23-year old detainee Mehdi-Muhammad Ghezali, a Swedish citizen, as “a confused youth.” Confused indeed. In Afghanistan he stood with bin Laden at Tora Bora to the end, before fleeing to Pakistan—presumably, as the same Swedish official would have it, “looking for spiritual fulfillment.”

The British do not want their Guantanamo detainees returned to the UK for trial because—and this issue is sure to cause a major transatlantic conflict soon enough—there are simply no legal grounds to put them on trial at home. Islamic terrorists with European passports already have good reason to feel safe at home (except possibly for in France and Spain, which have both been burned long and badly enough by Islamic and other terrorism to have implemented relatively harsh counterterrorism measures). After all, most of them are only guilty of credit card fraud or similar crimes at home.

And then there is the issue of the death penalty, opposition to which is a core European value. When forced to choose between extraditing a terrorist tried and sentenced to death abroad (in Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Yemen) and granting him asylum, welfare, and a platform to continue inciting to murder, European governments have consistently chosen the latter. The cases of terrorist ideologues ensconcing themselves in the United Kingdom—or “Londonistan,” as it is now aptly called by many—are now legion, the likes of Abu Hamza, Omar Bakri, and Abu Qatada being only the best known. That issue alone is a guarantee that adequate punishment will not be given to international terrorists based in Europe, even if they are extradited to the United States. And that is the main reason Washington’s promise to London and Canberra regarding the Guantanamo detainees is a bad precedent.

Ultimately, the issue of Guantanamo’s detainees is going to become the issue of Western and civilized approach to Islamist and generally international terrorism - legally and otherwise. Neither the United States, nor, to say the least, the Europeans are yet prepared to deal comprehensively and consistently with the issue, and the counterproductive, indeed irresponsible but powerful influence of “human rights” NGOs only makes a solution more difficult. Perhaps the statements of the Russian detainees and their relatives may raise some questions and quiet some hysterical voices – but so far that should be seen as a remote hope rather than promise.


Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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