Chris Pyle on Closing Gitmo

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 12:00

Questioning Authority recently asked Chris Pyle, Class of 1926 Professor of Politics, chair of politics, and author of a forthcoming book about the war crimes of the George W. Bush administration, Getting Away with Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law, for his thoughts on Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay prison and to end Bush-era abuse of terrorist suspects. Here’s what he had to say.

QA: Can the Obama administration close the Guantanamo prison within a year?

CP: It will be difficult. Gitmo contains a number of prisoners who could safely be released, if their home governments would only accept them. The Pentagon has been unable to find other countries willing to take these prisoners in, but few are likely to help until the U.S. resettles some of them within its own borders. The Chinese Uighurs could be safely resettled in the United States, but no elected politicians will support such a move until a judge orders it, and thereby exposes himself and the judiciary to denunciation if anything goes wrong. About 90 Yemeni could be sent home, but most of them would be released for lack of facilities, and a few might join, or rejoin, al Qaeda’s cause. A dozen or so prisoners are too guilty and too dangerous to release. Unfortunately, a court might have to release them, because the allegations against them are tainted by torture. No one wants to take responsibility for that. So there are two arguable solutions for such prisoners. One is to ship them to Afghanistan, release them for a half hour, and have the Karzai government lock them up. Another is for the Supreme Court to abolish the rule that excludes illegally obtained evidence from use at trial. Unfortunately, the court’s right-wing majority is moving in that direction.

QA: Obama has issued orders to close the CIA’s secret prisons, end torture, and allow the Red Cross to interview prisoners. Are you hopeful that these orders will be carried out?

CP: Yes, but only by the current administration. I am confident that prisoners will be made to “disappear,” and will be tortured again, until Congress and the president flatly forbid it by legislation that can be enforced by civil suits as well as criminal prosecutions.

QA: Do you think that Obama’s orders will persuade the rest of the world that the United States is again committed to the rule of law and human rights?

CP: The orders are a good start, but most people in most countries will not believe anything we say about the rule of law and human rights until Bush administration officials are actually prosecuted for their war crimes. Too many people in too many countries have been victims of the clandestine operations of the CIA to believe mere protestations of reform. We need tough new legislation to curb the power of presidents to operate like Afghan warlords, in total disregard of the criminal law. Unfortunately, most Americans have no idea how much damage the clandestine services have done to our nation’s reputation over the past half century.

QA: Are there other steps Obama should take to restore the rule of law and human rights?

CP: Yes. He should not wait around until the statute of limitations makes it impossible to prosecute Bush administration officials for their conspiracy to torture prisoners. He should appoint a special prosecutor now, even before Democrats in Congress organize informational hearings. He should also stop claiming in court that the victims of torture can never sue their torturers because to do so might reveal state secrets. Many of those alleged secrets are in the public domain, and function only to obstruct justice. Obama’s lawyers should cease claiming that the government can imprison citizens and foreigners indefinitely, simply because some secret bureaucrat believes they might be dangerous, and they should stop refusing to disclose how many prisoners are being held at the U.S. airbase in Afghanistan--the other Gitmo.

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