GUANTÁNAMO BAY, CUBA – Hearings are underway in the United States Senate to assess what to do with the 240 detainees still behind bars at Guantánamo Bay, and what will become of the military tribunals and detention without trial that the Bush administration and a compliant Congress put into place. The US Congress is also debating what will happen to the detention camp itself, which was established in 2002 to house men who were allegedly “the worst of the worst,” in a setting deliberately framed by Bush attorneys as “legal outer space.”
But are those Senate hearings actually window dressing on a new reality that is just as bad as the old one – and in some ways worse? Military tribunals without due process are up and running again. While President Barack Obama has released a few prisoners, notably the Chinese Uighurs, and sent another for a real trial in New York City, he is now, chillingly, signalling that he is about to begin “preventive detention,” which would empower him to hold forever an unspecified number of prisoners without charges or trials.
On a visit to Guantánamo, Department of Defense spokesman Joe DellaVedova told me that a series of panels are reviewing the detainees’ files, a process that will take until this year’s end. The review will sort the detainees into three categories: those who will be tried in criminal courts in the US; those who will be released and sent to other countries; and those who “can’t be released and can’t be tried and so have to be held indefinitely…what is being called ‘preventive detention.’”
I was stunned. DellaVedova’s comment suggested that the review process was merely political theatre. If there is to be a genuine review of the accusations against these detainees, how can it be known in advance that the third category will be required? Indefinite preventive detention is, of course, the foundation of a police state.