May 2, 2013

Guantanamo, part two

Frustrations are boiling over for some of the 166 detainees in custody at Guantanamo Bay.

Shelby: There is a growing protest behind these doors – one that no cameras have been allowed to see.

William Sieck: Some detainees in protest will hunger strike.

Shelby: The military now says more than 100 of the men being held at Guantanamo Bay are refusing to eat. And this week, President Obama addressed the situation.

President Obama: I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.

Shelby: President Obama tried to close Guantanamo in 2009 but he was met with opposition from the public and Congress, which blocked parts of the president’s plan.

Representative Peter King: I think this is very hasty, it’s premature, and it raises questions which have not yet been answered.

General Thomas Hemingway: We have people down there who still would tell you, if they were sitting here discussing it with you, that their goal is to kill Americans.

Shelby: Only seven men of the almost 800 who have been held here since 2001, have been convicted of a crime. And there is a growing sense among the men, and their families, that they may never go home.

So, what do they hope to accomplish by starving themselves?

Omar Farah: The primary goal is to stop the crackdown and the deterioration in prison conditions.

Shelby: We took a tour at Guantanamo and conditions seemed pretty good.

Omar: If it were the nicest hotel in the world and someone told you that you couldn’t leave and couldn’t give you a reason why, and never charged you with anything, I don’ t think that the cable channels or the comfortable bed would offset the pain and frustration that you would feel about being trapped there. You can’t hold someone forever just because you can’t figure out the political way to release them.

Shelby: But what to do with Guantanamo has become political. The Obama administration could look at individual cases and transfer detainees to other countries, but some say the president isn’t doing enough. There is also a heated debate about where and how the men are tried.

Here at Camp Justice, detainees are tried by military commissions, a military court of law that is used to prosecute captured enemies for war crimes. In military commissions, the rules and the rights of the accused are different from than in civilian courts.

Six suspected terrorists are on trial in a temporary courtroom on the base, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has admitted to be being behind the 9/11 attacks along with his alleged co-conspirators.

Most members of Congress do not want to close the prison, and some question whether it would be safe to transfer the prisoners to U.S. courts.

Graham: We believe firmly that Gitmo – there is no substitute for it that Congress will agree upon – that it is the right place to put an enemy combatant for interrogation and, when at all possible, trial.

Shelby: It is unclear how many other detainees will eventually be tried in any kind of court, but that number is likely to be low. That is because the government has determined that 46 men are too dangerous to release, yet impossible to convict in court.

Admiral Smith: There’s always that chance that an individual that is released will, in fact, get back into the fight. And there are some individuals here that, I feel, if let go, will get back into the fight.

Shelby: Sixteen percent of the men released have joined some type of terrorist activity. Another 11% were suspected of doing so. That is according to a report from the director of national intelligence last year. But 72% of those freed are believed to have no ties, and have gone on to live their lives.

Omar: Release the men that you don’t intend to charge. And the others, charge them in federal court, where we have a system that, for all of it’s flaws – and there are certainly have flaws in our federal judicial system – it’s been tried and tested. And that’s really the only sustainable solution.

Shelby: More than half of the detainees have been approved for transfer or release but can’t go to their home countries because of restrictions in U.S. laws. For now, there is no resolution in sight. And Omar fears that unless the president and Congress act soon, the detainees will continue to starve themselves.

Are they doing this because they want to die?

Omar: That’s a really important question. And it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s really the opposite. The prisoners want to live. But they want to live with freedom and they want to live with dignity.

Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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