David Cole: What to Do About Guantánamo?

This morning, at his trial at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Station, Canadian Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, supporting terrorism, conspiracy and spying.

Meanwhile, there is this essay from David Cole, a long-time critic of the Guantanamo process. He is reviewing:

The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law
edited by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz
NYU Press, 420 pp., $32.95

Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror
by Charles Fried and Gregory Fried
Norton, 222 pp., $24.95

The Guantánamo Review Task Force Final Report

And writes:

“..what the island symbolizes for the rest of the world: a monument to lawlessness, a prison erected for detaining, interrogating, and brutalizing suspected terrorists without having to account for their status, condition, or treatment to anyone—not to the detainees themselves, their families, their countries of origin, the courts, or the American people. As originally conceived by the Bush administration, Guantánamo was a hole into which suspects would for all practical purposes disappear, never to be heard from again.”



One of the most moving entries in The Guantánamo Lawyers is an account by Muneer Ahmad of his Canadian client Omar Khadr’s decision to fire him. Lawyers, Ahmad argues, take a long view, recognizing that what is ultimately at issue is a struggle to change cultural understandings and assumptions. For the detainees, however, kept isolated for years on end at Guantánamo, such change is altogether too abstract. Still, Ahmad insists,

It would be a mistake to say that Omar was concerned merely with short-term relief…while we were concerned with the long-term goal of his release. The difference between us was rather more profound and concerned competing judgments about how best to achieve the long-term goal. In the beginning of our relationship, Omar gave law, and us, the benefit of the doubt. But over time, he…came to see law as the government’s tool of oppression rather than his and the other detainees’ instrument for liberation.


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