The Guantanamo Debate Comes Home

By Jefferson Morley Staff writer
Monday, June 20, 2005; 7:36 PM

The U.S.-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, needs "to be closed down or cleaned up," former president Bill Clinton told the Financial Times. It may be surprising that the former American president is quoted in a British newspaper. But then again the international online media has long been ahead of U.S. news outlets in airing debate about the detention facility.

The first full Senate hearings on Guantanamo, held last week, brought home to Capitol Hill an issue that has percolated in the foreign press for two years.

The "edifice of silence and acquiescence [around Guantanamo] is beginning to crack," said Gulf News, based in the United Arab Emirates. Sen. Joseph Biden's recent call for the closing of the facility known as Camp X-Ray was described as "a sign that the damage the lawless place does to the image of America was finally being recognised by politicians in the corridors of power."

"Debate on Guantanamo Heats Up Ahead of Senate Hearings," declared Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in Prague. RFE/RL noted high in its story that only four of the 500 Guantanamo prisoners have been formally charged with a crime.

"Even the solid support of majority Republicans in Congress, who have consistently viewed Guantanamo as necessary in the post-Sept 11 battle against terrorism, is eroding," said Dawn, the leading English language newspaper in Pakistan.

Still, there are distinct differences between the American and international debate.

In the U.S. media, the debate about Guantanamo often focuses on the propriety of the language used to describe the treatment of prisoners. The White House, conservative columnists and his Senate colleagues criticized Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) for saying U.S. interrogation techniques were reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The Post's Anne Applebaum, a Guantanamo critic, rebuked Amnesty International for likening the prison camp to the Soviet gulag.

In the foreign media, the debate is more likely to focus on the propriety of the treatment itself.

The Sydney Morning Herald picked up on Time magazine's report about the man now believed to be the so-called 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks. Mohammad al-Kahtani was "forcibly injected with fluids, not allowed to go to the toilet until he gave information, threatened with military dogs and kept awake by Christina Aguilera pop songs.

"The revelations have left some congressmen aghast," the SMH said. "A Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, suggested there was 'a vacuum of leadership' at the Pentagon."

The Mail & Guardian in South Africa highlighted the testimony of a U.S. military lawyer who told a Senate hearing that the military tribunals at Guantanamo were a "tremendous failure." Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift said that his client, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, had been left mentally disturbed after being held in solitary confinement for seven months.

"Swift said that Hamdan was offered the opportunity to see a defence lawyer only if he pleaded guilty to the charges made against him," the M&G reported.

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