June 29, 2006

Court ruling to have little impact on Guantanamo

By Jane Sutton

Court ruling on war crimes tribunals being held at Guantanamo
navy base will have little effect on the detention camp that
holds 450 foreign captives, the camp commander said.

"I don't think there's any direct outcome on our detention
operation," Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the prison commander, said
in an interview this week.

The high court upheld on Thursday a Guantanamo defendant's
challenge to President George W. Bush's power to create the
military tribunals to try suspected al Qaeda conspirators and
Taliban supporters after the September 11 attacks.

Harris said he would build a second courtroom if the
tribunals are allowed to proceed but little else would change
because the court was not asked to rule on Guantanamo itself, a
prison camp that human rights groups, the United Nations and
foreign governments have sharply criticized.

The tribunals have also come under fire from lawyers, who
say they are rigged to ensure conviction and offer none of the
basic guarantees and rights granted suspects in the U.S.
justice system or to which formal prisoners of war would be

Ten detainees at Guantanamo have been charged before the
tribunals, and prosecutors have said they will charge as many
as 25 more if the court rules in favor of the commissions.

"If they rule against the government I don't see how that's
going to affect us. From my perspective I think the impact will
be negligible," Harris told Reuters.

About 120 other prisoners at the base in have been cleared
for release, or transfer to their homelands where Washington
expects them to remain in detention.

Faced with growing international condemnation of the camp
after three prisoners committed suicide on June 10, President
Bush has said he would like to empty the detention center.

But the director of interrogations at Guantanamo said many
of the rest could be held a very long time because U.S.
officials will not release those whom they are convinced have
the connections, training and means to carry out attacks.

"Nobody wants to be the first person to allow the next 9/11
to happen," said interrogations chief Paul Rester. "Emptying
this place is not my goal."