Analysis Brief

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Prepared by: Carin Zissis
May 18, 2006

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Four years after U.S. officials began detaining "unlawful enemy combatants" at a camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, steady international calls to close the center have failed to budge Washington. The UN Committee Against Torture weighed in this week with a report on the issue. Opponents of the detention camp, where nearly 500 people are still held without formal charges, may have been hopeful after U.S. President George W. Bush recently told German television: "I very much would like to end Guantanamo;I very much would like to get people to a court." Bush said closing the camp depends on whether the Supreme Court decides that detainees will be tried in civilian courts or by military tribunals. That ruling is expected in June in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, discussed in this CFR Backgrounder.

CFR Senior Fellow Noah Feldman, in an interview with cfr.org, says this is no mere political dodge. However, "the president could, if he wanted to, close Guantanamo tomorrow," he says. "He’d just have to do something with the people there."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated during a subsequent press briefing that 'Gitmo' would not be closed and the administration still hopes to set up a military commission to try detainees. However, Slate Supreme Court analyst Dahlia Lithwick says Bush's comments are significant because they amount to a rare admission that he is bound by a decision of the high court on an issue related to the war on terror.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has released the names of 759 former and current detainees held at the camp following an Associated Press lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act. The list shows that detainees come from more than forty different countries but does not indicate which are among the 275 who have been released or transferred (Independent).

Treatment and rights of prisoners continue to dominate discussions about the camp. The U.S. State Department rejected a call last week for the camp's closure by Britain's Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, who called Guantanamo's existence "unacceptable" (BBC). A recent study by the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, formed by a coalition of human rights organizations, demands accountability in prisoner abuse in Guantanamo, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. A majority of Americans say the United States should adhere to a UN Commission on Human Rights' study that calls for closing the camp and starting immediate trials for detainees, according to a new poll published by World Public Opinion.

The Pentagon has launched a public relations campaign to improve Guantanamo's image (USNews). Navy Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the task force responsible for detainee operations and intelligence gathering at the facility, tells the Chicago Tribune that detainees are treated well and that Camp 6, a nearly completed $30 million medium-security facility, will make life even better for them.

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