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Indefinite Detention Sacrifices Human Dignity

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September 8, 2009

Last weekend , NOW on PBS explored indefinite detention in its latest episode, “After Guantánamo.” In it, host David Brancaccio interviewed Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who was tasked with prosecuting Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantánamo detainee accused of 9/11-related crimes. In 2004, Couch became the first of six military lawyers to resign from prosecuting the military commissions cases assigned to them because they disagreed with the commissions’ flawed system of “justice,” which includes using evidence gained through torture and rigging the trials in favor of a conviction.

Lt. Col. Couch refused to prosecute the case because Slahi was tortured at Gitmo.

In the NOW interview, Lt. Col. Couch explains why he resigned:

We cannot compromise our respect for the dignity of every human being. And that goes to somebody that is alleged to have committed heinous crimes against citizens of this country. That doesn’t change the immutable characteristic that they’re still a human being, and it’s a slippery slope that in the name of national security we decide to compromise that. If we compromise that, then al-Qaeda has been able to affect much more of an impact on this country than they have by driving a couple of planes into the World Trade Center or crashing one into the Pentagon. Because they’ve torn at the very fabric of who we are as Americans.

“After Guantánamo” also features an interview with Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team. Speaking on why the Obama administration should not create an indefinite detention system, Sands says:

The U.S. has a unique position around the world. There is no country that is more closely associated with the rule of law. That has given the United States, for good and for bad, a tremendous moral authority around the world. If the U.S. loses that moral authority, it will be come that much more difficult for the United States…to protect itself.

…The lot of a democracy is to fight with one hand tied behind its back, hostage to its own values, but a democracy is still stronger than those who face us down…We’ve got to keep our eye on our system of values, that no man or woman is deprived of liberty without due process. If that is gone, we become like those who seek to do us harm, and we don’t make ourselves safer.

You can listen to Sands talk about accountability for torture with ACLU attorney Amrit Singh and Glenn Greenwald of in this podcast (MP3). Philippe also wrote a blog post for our Accountability for Torture blog forum, called “Accountability Is Coming to the USA.” And go to to find out when “After Guantánamo” will be playing on your local PBS station.

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