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GAP Opposes Bringing Unjust Guantanamo Bay Practices to Illinois Prison

, April 09, 2010

A coalition of civil liberties groups, including GAP, the ACLUAlliance for JusticeAmnesty International, and five others, are urging all members of Congress to vote against purchasing the Thomson Correction Center in Illinois to house the current prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, in effect prolonging the detainees’ current stay at the long-controversial holding facility. Guantanamo is known for its officers’ use of torture techniques against prisoners, and has come under fire recently forthree alleged detainee deaths from torture in 2006 that were, again allegedly, covered up by the military as suicides.

This may seem counterintuitive, as many of the groups (including GAP) have publicly stated that Guantanamo Bay should be closed – but closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay in favor of a facility in Illinois with the same due process and constitutional problems is a band-aid without a cure. The current plan for the Illinois facility could include holding detainees indefinitely without bringing charges. Which, of course, is one of the major problems with Guatanamo Bay. A letter sent by the groups to all members of Congress urged that no action be taken to purchase the prison…

unless Congress, at the same time, also enacts a permanent, statutory ban on using the Thomson prison for indefinitely detaining persons without charge or trial, or for holding persons during military commission trials or for serving sentences imposed by military commissions.

The letter continues:

…we would support using the Thomson facility for holding any detainees now at Guantánamo who may be charged, tried, or sentenced in federal criminal court. However, we strongly oppose transporting the worst of Guantánamo policies – indefinite detention without charge or trial and military commissions – to a prison within the United States itself. If used for one or both of these purposes, the purchase of the Thomson prison could result in institutionalizing and perpetuating policies that should instead end.

The key is the institutionalization of these atrocious and bogus policies, which sets an unacceptable precedent of unfair detention practices taking place on American soil. It should be noted that the organizations believe the Obama administration has taken several excellent measures attempting to rectify the Guantanamo situation since taking office (notably beginning his presidency with a promise to shut down the facility and permitting detainees to receive fair trials in the federal court system).

However, the groups feel there’s a right way and wrong way to close this prison site that should have been closed long ago. Simply moving prisoners into the United States and keeping the same heinous policies that defy justice is the wrong way.

Specifically, the groups are concerned with the use of military commissions to decide the fates of detainees:

The military commissions have now gone through eight years, two statutes, four sets of rules, but have only resulted in three convictions, with two of those convicted detainees now released. By contrast, more than 400 defendants have been convicted of terrorism-related offense in federal criminal courts. The military commissions still do not have any rules based on the new statute, continue to have fundamental problems that could result in their proceedings being held illegal under the Constitution and international law, and deservedly lack credibility both at home and abroad. Second, the government continues to claim authority to indefinitely detain without charge or trial some of the Guantanamo detainees. Even if there is legal authority to continue to indefinitely detain these men, which many of our groups dispute, the government should make the policy decision that the interests of the United States are better served by either charging a detainee in federal criminal court or repatriating or resettling the detainee.

And, of course, the institutionalization of such a policy would simply mean future Afghan prisoners are held the same way:

Moreover, Thomson could eventually become the place to send other persons held indefinitely without charge or trial – with the prospect of detainees being transferred there from Bagram, Afghanistan or new captures brought from other locations around the globe. The unfortunate reality that we would face if Thomson opens is that it is easier to go from 50 to 51 indefinite detention prisoners than it is to go from 0 to 1. Once the indefinite detention policy is institutionalized at Thomson, it will be difficult to hold the line at former Guantanamo detainees.

Congress has to approve the sale of the prison, and it should not give yet another stamp of approval on indefinite detention and constitutionally questionable due process proceedings. The Obama administration was elected on a platform of change and a promise not only to close the physical doors of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, but to shut down the unjust detention policies Guantanamo Bay has been used for. Congress must hold the President to his word.