ACLU Slams Bush Administration for Ejecting Journalists from Guantánamo

June 14, 2006 12:00 am

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Calls for Immediate Independent Investigation into Reported Suicides at Guantánamo Detention Facility


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NEW YORK — Responding to reports that journalists are being forced to leave Guantánamo Bay naval base following the suicides of three detainees on Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union today sharply criticized the Bush administration’s determination to further remove the conditions at the detention facility from public view.

“If the United States wants to restore its credibility as a democracy in the eyes of the world, it should be inviting journalists in, not kicking them out,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Our government insists it has nothing to hide, but its actions show otherwise,” he added, noting that according to news reports the government took nearly three days to notify the lawyers for the detainees of their clients’ deaths.

According to press reports, a two-sentence e-mail was sent to reporters for The Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times, citing a directive from the Office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which stated: “Media currently on the island will depart on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 10:00 a.m. Please be prepared to depart the CBQ [quarters] at 8:00 a.m.”

Overcoming Pentagon objections, the correspondents went to the base on Saturday to cover the aftermath of the suicides at the invitation of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., the admiral in charge of the prison. The Pentagon canceled the invitation Tuesday night, despite protests from the newspapers.

“The shroud of secrecy surrounding Guantánamo Bay must be lifted, with independent access to and monitoring of the facilities on an ongoing basis,” Romero continued. “This monitoring should not only include access by journalists and human rights experts, but medical treatment for the detainees, especially those who have chosen to engage in hunger strikes as a way to draw attention to their conditions of confinement.”

In an unexpected departure, earlier this week President Bush said at a press conference with the Danish prime minister that he believed the Guantánamo detainees “ought to be tried in courts here in the United States. We will file such court claims once the Supreme Court makes its decision as to whether or not — as to the proper venue for these trials. And we’re waiting on our Supreme Court to act.”

In fact, the Bush administration has vigorously urged the Supreme Court to block access to federal courts for the Guantánamo detainees, insisting that they appear before military tribunals that, in the ACLU’s view, do not guarantee either independence or impartiality and are inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions and international law.

The ACLU has long criticized the military commissions that have been used to try the 10 detainees at Guantánamo. The remaining 450 detainees have not been charged with any crime and are being held indefinitely.

“The military commissions set up by President Bush have been a sham from their inception,” Romero said. “They are not legal, not fair and not representative of the American system of justice. All detainees charged with crimes deserve an open and fair hearing, and those not charged should be immediately released.”

“The core underlying injustices of the Guantánamo Bay facility need to be remedied before other lives are lost,” Romero warned. “The detention and lack of fair trials goes against the America we hold in our hearts and our minds.”

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