Bush retreat fails to silence demand: Close Guantanamo!

WASHINGTON — Fighters for justice and peace greeted a Pentagon memo asserting that 1,000 or more detainees at secret U.S. military prisons around the world are protected by the Geneva Conventions. They called for the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility.

The White House announced that it has withdrawn part of Bush’s 2002 executive order in which he asserted that the detainees are not covered by the Geneva Conventions. Bush had asserted his authority to imprison them indefinitely without criminal charges and try them before military tribunals devised exclusively by himself, without congressional approval.

Gael Murphy, co-founder of CodePink Women For Peace, told the World, “There is very quick movement in the right direction on this issue. We are continuing to call for the closing of Guantanamo. It would send a message around the world that we as a nation do not support illegal detentions, torture, renditions. We also call on the government to close Abu Ghraib and to end illegal sweeps, detention and torture in Iraq.”

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “After more than four years of lawlessness, the Defense Department took a big first step toward complying with federal law by stating that it will comply with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions when holding detainees.”

The Pentagon’s July 7 memo, written by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, was in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld two weeks ago that the detainees are protected by the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The justices ruled that Bush’s planned military tribunals are illegal and must not proceed.

Romero pointed out that even as the Pentagon memo voiced verbal compliance with that high court ruling, “a top Justice Department lawyer urged Congress to ‘ratify’ the military commissions that the Supreme Court invalidated two weeks ago.”

Romero added, “It’s time for the government to stop trying to weasel out of obeying the Supreme Court and federal law.”

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, July 11, Bush administration lawyers demanded that Congress enact a law to, in effect, nullify the high court ruling so they can forge ahead with their rigged tribunals. But CodePink women, who have been on a “Troops Home Fast” since July 4 demanding an end to the Iraq war, were sitting directly behind the Bush-Cheney lawyers. The women held signs that read, “Close Guantanamo.”

David Swanson, a leader of Progressive Democrats of America and a co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, which seeks Bush’s impeachment told the World the Bush administration is engaged in verbal games to appear in compliance with the high court while continuing to torture and abuse detainees. “What disturbs me is the headlines in the media that the Bush administration ‘agrees that detainees are covered by the Geneva Convention.’ But the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Daniel Dell’Orto, says they are already in compliance and always have been. It’s laughable and scary that The Associated Press would print that without adding. ‘That’s a blatant lie.’ We’re talking about people locked in cages, paraded around naked, people the Red Cross says have been tortured.”

Swanson is helping promote antiwar activist and Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan’s plan to move Camp Casey from near Bush’s ranch at Crawford, Texas, to the Capitol Mall starting Sept. 5. It is being renamed “Camp Democracy.” Said Swanson, “Camp Democracy is a way to bring the voice of the people to the seat of power, to force our government to pay attention. The American people overwhelmingly oppose torture, oppose this government’s shredding of the Bill of Rights. One step among many to restore democracy is to close Guantanamo.”

Michael McGuire, media spokesperson for Witness Against Torture, said the Bush administration’s verbal antics in response to the Supreme Court ruling remind him of Bush’s notorious “signing statements.” Said McGuire, “Congress passes a law and Bush signs it, attaching a ‘signing statement’ in which he says, ‘This is what I think the law says.’ The law says what he wants it to say.”

He pointed out that the Bush administration approved “water-boarding” as a method of interrogation. “They strap a prisoner to a board and push him under water until he drowns. Then they resuscitate him. Yet they claim that is permitted under Article 3.”

McGuire continued, “We say close Guantanamo. Close all the secret prisons. That would be a very important step toward ending this administration’s regime of torture and inhumanity.”

Even as Bush pretended to be compliant with the high court, he renominated William J. Haynes II, a Pentagon lawyer for a seat on the federal appeals court. Haynes played a major role in devising Bush’s torture policy. He explicitly advised interrogators to use attack dogs to terrorize detainees.

Twenty retired military officers sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a letter expressing their “deep concern” about Haynes’ fitness for the federal bench. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, ranking Democrat on the committee, said, “It is astounding that the administration would continue to press his nomination. Mr. Haynes has displayed a shocking failure of legal and moral leadership.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) pointed out that low-ranking military personnel have been prosecuted for using attack dogs during interrogations. “It is striking that as these soldiers were being prosecuted, you were being promoted. … What message are we sending if we promote you to the second highest court in our land?”