October 15, 2004

Looking Back on Year of Guantanamo Bay Protests

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For three days last April, the Arts Quad was fighting ground for the debate over the rights of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. In protesting the ability of American officials to hold the prisoners without trial, Cornell for Peace and Justice constructed a replica of a detention cell. In reaction, the Cornell Review staged a counter-protest.

While one Review protester strapped a fake bomb around his body, the rest of the group handed out quartercards stating, “Bam, you’re dead infidel. Don’t you wish I was locked up in Guantanamo Bay?”

Six months since those fervid protests, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on prisoners’ rights, the Pentagon is preparing for the release of a majority of the approximately 550 Guantanamo detainees and the first habeas corpus cases are about to be heard before the federal court.

On April 20, two Australians and 12 Kuwaitis challenged the legality of their detentions after being allegedly connected to the war on terrorism. On June 28, the Supreme Court ruled in Rasul vs. Bush that U.S. courts have the jurisdiction to hear prisoners’ habeas corpus cases.

“The government thought they were beyond the reach of the courts,” said Brian Eden, coordinator of the Tompkins County Bill of Rights Defense Committee. To Eden, the June 28 ruling meant that even in war, executive detention of suspected enemy combatants must be subject to some form of review by a neutral tribunal. Further, according to U.S. Newswire, the Supreme Court decision has forced the government to explain the basis for the detention of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

“It’s good [the government] is starting to look at, seriously, who belongs there and who doesn’t,” said Omer Vajwa grad, former president of Muslim Educational and Cultural Association.

Currently, there are approximately 63 habeas corpus pending petitions from al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

“I believe the Supreme Court was correct that even detainees at Guantanamo Bay have certain fundamental human rights,” said Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr, law.

Three months after the Supreme Court ruling, the first open court proceedings for Guantanamo Bay prisoners were announced this week.

“This leaves the government with very few options, either the prisoners need to be charged and be allowed defense lawyers; or the government needs to make an adequate case in court that they constitute a threat to the United States. In this situation, if the government lacks evidence to prosecute them and cannot establish them as a threat, then it has no choice but to release these prisoners,” stated Shaffique Adam grad, a Sun columnist, in an email.

“They’re not really being held for trial, they’re being held for interrogation,” Eden said.

According to the Financial Times, many of the prisoners incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay will be released or transferred back to their own countries because the U.S. government does not have enough evidence to prosecute them. Many have been held there since the end of the war in Afghanistan in early 2002. No specific date was given for the time of the release.

Prof. William Trochim, policy analysis and management stated in an email, “Many people are afraid that if we let the prisoners go, they will return to their countries and become terrorists. But if we have any credible evidence to bring or charges to make, our government should do so. If we do not, we must treat them according to the law.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with holding them there longer,” said Paul Ibrahim ’06, president of the Cornell Review. Ibrahim, who was one of the leaders in the counter-protest last spring, explained that he protested to show that the people in Guantanamo Bay are not just nice, innocent people who got in the way. “They deserve to be there,” Ibrahim said.

As of this past Tuesday, a former Taliban soldier released from Guantanamo this past March is leading a band of militants who have kidnapped five Chinese engineers in Pakistan.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told USA Today that 202 detainees have been released from Guantanamo over the past year. Whitman further estimated that between five to seven of those released are now engaged in terrorism.

On the upcoming release of the prisoners Ibrahim said, “I hope [the government] didn’t do this because they’re bowing under pressure because that’s not the right thing to do.”

Vajwa explained that he thinks the upcoming release of the prisoners with spur the growth of anti-Americanism. He believes some prisoners will go back to fight against the United States. Those who do go back to their communities will speak of their mistreatment in Guantanamo to their family and neighbors.

Furthermore, some current prisoners will be transferred to the control of their home governments in the Middle East. Many of these governments have records of torturing prisoners for interrogation purposes. Vajwa believes some prisoners will be excessively tortured, fostering radicalism and hatred against America.

“If we claim to be this great democracy … then America, honestly … has to show how this democracy works,” Vajwa said.

Adam stated that the Guantanamo Bay issue illustrates how this administration overstepped its legal rights and was corrected by the Supreme Court.

“We will be strongest against the threat of terrorism in the world if we are willing to live within the rule of law, even though it may be difficult at times to do so,” Trochim stated. “In the long run, that is what will win the hearts and minds of people around the world to oppose terrorism and lawlessness. And, if we do not win that battle of beliefs, we will not prevail in the battle against terror.”

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer