The Guardian 22 June, 2005

Calls grow to close Guantánamo

Susan Webb

In the wake of charges by Amnesty International that US detention centres at Guantánamo and elsewhere constitute "the gulag of our times", one of the Senate’s leading Democrats, Senator Joseph Biden, and former President Jimmy Carter called for the closing the Guantánamo prison, and even Republicans have said they will hold congressional hearings on US treatment of detainees.

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

Speaking on American ABC’s This Week, Biden called for an independent commission to look into US actions at Guantánamo, 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 Republican Majority Whip Mitch McConnell conceded hearings on Guantánamo might have to happen. "Look, it’s very difficult to run a perfect prison", he told CNN’s Late Edition. Republican Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter 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 US 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. And in some cases, at least, we know they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed."

He said the US should take responsibility for investigating the "architects of torture, not just the foot soldiers who may have inflicted the torture directly, but those who authorised 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 US 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 US 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 Defence Ministry, that in mid-2002 the US 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 US congressional authorisation of military action, and while the UN was urgently trying to avert war.

Democrat John Conyers 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 1600 US 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

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