Guantanamo Uncensored Europe Welcomes Prisoner Name Ruling

Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that the Pentagon must release the names of those held at Guantanamo. European Human Rights Groups welcome the decision. "Secrecy" has been taken out of the US arsenal, they say.


Prisoners at Guantanamo: "An atmosphere of secrecy"
REUTERS

Prisoners at Guantanamo: "An atmosphere of secrecy"

George W. Bush isn't an American president who is easily swayed. During his first official meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month, Bush described the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba as "a necessary part of protecting the American people." So long as the war on terror goes on, he said, "and so long as there's a threat, we will inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm."

But legal pressure in the United States surrounding the Guantanamo facility is increasing. Earlier this week, Jed Rakoff, who sits on the Federal District Court in Manhattan ordered the publication of the names and nationalities of the several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo. The judge has given the Pentagon until Jan. 30 to release the information, which was the subject of a freedom of information lawsuit brought by the Associated Press.

In Europe, representatives of major human rights organizations are applauding the development. Sumit Bhattacharyya, a US expert at Amnesty International in Germany, embraced what he called a "very positive" decision. "With this ruling, one more instrument has been taken from the American administration -- secrecy," he said. This is especially important, he said, "in an atmosphere in which secrecy is opening up the door to human rights abuses."

Opposition to Guantanamo and a clandestine CIA program that involved kidnapping suspected terrorists and flying them to other countries where they may have been abused during interrogations has caused considerable outrage in Europe, where fears persist that the US is "outsourcing torture." In the run-up to her Washington trip, Merkel indirectly appealed to Bush to close the Guantanamo prison. "An institution like Guantanamo in its present form cannot and must not exist in the long term," she told SPIEGEL. "We must find different ways of dealing with prisoners."

Last year, AP petitioned to obtain access to the transcripts of 558 interrogations that took place at Guantanmo. The Pentagon turned the transcripts over to the news agency, but it blacked out any reference to the prisoners' names or any potentially identifying passages. However, in an earlier ruling this month, Judge Rakoff said these heavy-handed redactions were unjustified.

The government then argued that the names should also be withheld to protect the privacy of the families, friends and colleagues of the suspects. Washington said those people be hounded by embarrassing questions or possibly even be targets for retaliatory measures by terrorist groups if the names were made public.

But Rakoff said he also remained "unconvinced" about this line of argument and "thin speculation." He added that none of the families of prisoners ever had any "reasonable expectation" that the detainees would not at some point reveal their names.

Most expect the Pentagon will appeal the current ruling, said Amnesty International's Bhattacharyya. "We just hope that the appeal's court issues the same kind of ruling," he said.

Rakoff has a history of judgements that haven't sat well with the Bush administration. In 2002, he landed in the headlines when he declared federal capital punishment laws to be unconstitutional. "The unacceptable high rate at which innocent persons are convicted of capital crimes," the judge wrote, "when coupled with the frequently prolonged delays before such errors are detected ... compels the conclusion that execution under the Federal Death Penalty Act, by cutting off the opportunity of exoneration, denies due process and, indeed, is tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings." The ruling triggered a massive debate in the United States over whether or not capital punishment could be justified.

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