History will not Look Kindly on Guantanamo Prison
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Congress is back from its Memorial Day recess. And while federal judges and President Bush's pick for UN ambassador are at the top of the agenda, NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr sees another issue gaining momentum.
The controversy over abuses in the Guantanamo detention camp has reached that uneasy bipartisan stage where Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter plans hearings this month, and Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, demands an independent inquiry and the closing of the camp.
Amnesty International undoubtedly committed a tactical error in speaking of the `Gulag of our time,' a reference to Stalin's murderous system of forced labor camps. `That charge was reprehensible,' said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, without dwelling on details of mistreatment in the 308-page report which concluded that the United States was one of the biggest disappointments in the human rights arena. William Schulz, the director of Amnesty International USA, later acknowledged that the Gulag reference was not meant as a literal analogy.
As some of the about 540 detainees at Guantanamo are gradually released, we are likely to hear more stories of ill treatment by interrogators and desecration of the Koran. The Army has so far acknowledged only five cases involving Korans. The New York Times yesterday devoted two columns to the story of one 19-year-old Muslim from Germany picked up in Pakistan, held as a terror suspect, first, in Afghanistan, later at Guantanamo, where he's been for three years, although no evidence against him was ever found.
The wave of anger, sometimes violent, that coursed through the Muslim world after one item appeared in Newsweek magazine about Koran desecration is an indication of what can be expected if there are open Senate hearings. Senator Biden said that Guantanamo has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. Senator Robert Byrd has proposed deleting funds for Guantanamo from the defense budget.
What can be called a closed Guantanamo lobby has begun to form in the press. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, calling Guantanamo a national shame and a gift to America's enemies, has called for shutting down the facility. CBS' Bob Schieffer wondered if the greater danger is the impact Guantanamo is having inside the United States. Talking of torture, he said, `Do we want our children to believe this is how we are?' By present appearances, Guantanamo is likely to take a shameful place in American history, alongside the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. This is Daniel Schorr.
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