In the wake of charges by Amnesty International that U.S. detention centers at Guantanamo and elsewhere constitute “the gulag of our times,” one of the Senate’s leading Democrats, Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), and former President Jimmy Carter called for closing the Guantanamo prison, and even Republicans said they would hold congressional hearings on U.S. treatment of detainees.

At a June 7 news conference in Atlanta, Carter said Guantanamo and other secret detention facilities should be closed, calling reports of abuse there a “terrible embarrassment.” He also called for the U.S. to stop transferring detainees to other countries where torture is routinely used, a practice known as rendition.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” June 5, Biden called for an independent commission to look into U.S. actions at Guantanamo, but he concluded, “I think we should end up shutting it down.” Biden is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The same day, with the Bush administration clearly on the defensive, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded hearings on Guantanamo might have to happen. “Look, it’s very difficult to run a perfect prison,” he told CNN’s “Late Edition.” Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said his committee will hold hearings this month.

Amnesty International USA’s executive director, William Schulz, responded sharply to White House efforts to dismiss the rights group’s charges.

“The U.S. is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons, into which people are being literally ‘disappeared,’ held in indefinite, incommunicado detention without access to lawyers or a judicial system,” Schulz told Fox News. “And in some cases, at least, we know they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed.” He said the U.S. should take responsibility for investigating the “architects of torture, not just the foot soldiers who may have inflicted the torture directly, but those who authorized it or encouraged it or provided rationales for it.”

On June 1 a federal judge ordered the Army to release 144 photographs and several videos taken by a U.S. soldier relating to detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The order was in response to a Freedom of Information suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“These images may be ugly and shocking, but they depict how the torture was more than the actions of a few rogue soldiers,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said the images “underscore the need for an independent investigation into which government officials were ultimately responsible for the abuse.” Many documents are still being withheld, she said. “This is just a fraction.”

As British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Bush in Washington, momentum continued to build for an investigation of new evidence, in the so-called “Downing Street Memo,” that the Bush administration “fixed” intelligence to take the U.S. to war in Iraq. The secret memo, published last month by the Times of London, reports minutes of a July 2002 meeting of top British officials including Blair. According to the memo, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, just back from meetings in Washington, reported that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed” to justify Bush’s determination to attack Iraq.

On May 29, the Times reported new evidence, from the British Defense Ministry, that in mid-2002 the U.S. and Britain doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq, and “by the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive” — months before U.S. congressional authorization of military action, and while the UN was urgently trying to avert war.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and 88 other members of Congress wrote to Bush on May 5 requesting answers about the information revealed in the Downing Street Memo.

The memo “casts serious doubt on many of the contentions of the Bush administration in the lead up to the Iraq war,” Conyers says on his campaign web site. “With over 1,600 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and over $200 billion in taxpayer funds going to this war effort, we cannot afford to stand by any longer.”

Noting that the White House has “stonewalled” the lawmakers’ request, Conyers says, “I believe the American people deserve answers about this matter and should demand directly that the president tell the truth about the memo.”

After Conyers posted a public version of the letter to Bush on the web site, it was overwhelmed with responses. “At times, I am receiving 10 e-mails a minute,” he wrote on the site. Members of the public can add their names to the letter at


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.