Kur: (In progress) – on the new Washington Post Radio 1500 AM, 107.7 FM.
We’re going to turn our attention now back to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
A little over a week ago, three detainees there hanged themselves there at the facility that holds about 450 men that the government says are enemy combatants. Now they were captured during hostilities in and around Afghanistan after 9/11. Now of the roughly 450 at Guantanamo, only 10, apparently have crimes.
Twenty-four hours ago on this very program, Washington Post columnist Gene Robinson argued, as he does in his column today, that, quote, “Anyway you look at it, arbitrary indefinite detention without formal legal charges is an abandonment of the very ideals that the U.S. is supposedly fighting to spread throughout the world.”
Today, a response. We’re going to get it from the Pentagon: the deputy assistant secretary of Defense, Cally Stimson, is here with us now.
Mr. Stimson, good to have you with us.
MR. STIMSON: Thanks for having me, Bob.
Kur: Well, if it is true at this time that only 10 detainees are at Gitmo – only 10 of the 450 or so have been charged, why is that?
MR. STIMSON: First off, there’s approximately 460. And you know, during a time of war, which we’re at war – we need to remind all our listeners that we are at war – any nation who detains its enemy is entitled to keep the enemy detained throughout the duration of the conflict.
And what Mr. Robinson is doing in his article is he’s conflating or mixing or melding two very important different concepts. One concept being a criminal law context: charges, rights, Miranda, courts; and the law of war context, which is detain the person throughout the duration of the conflict until the conflict is over. There are two purposes served in both of those –
Kur: I guess that what he and others have said is that this is a war that, at least for now, doesn’t seem like other wars. I think everybody has conceded that. And you know, you say for the duration of the conflict. Who knows how long that’s going to be?
MR. STIMSON: Yeah, that’s the tough issue. And what that does not entitle the opponents of the war to do is to create out of thin air a law, a rule – which doesn’t exist, by the way – that says, well, since we don’t know when it’s going to end, then we get to meld the law of war and meld that with a criminal law context.
I mean, let me give you a perfect example: In World War II, when we were lucky enough to detain our enemy – let’s say the Nazis, for instance – those detainees, those prisoners, they didn’t know when the war was going to end. They didn’t get a nickel to call their lawyer. They weren’t even given lawyers, because you don’t give your enemy a lawyer for a trial because it’s understood – and it has been understood for over 50 years in the Geneva Convention – you don’t get a trial and get a lawyer, a Johnnie Cochran, to try to pop you out of a detention facility.
And so there’s this constant mantra, this drumbeat that, oh, they need charges, they need lawyers, they need a trial because we don’t know when the end of the war’s going to be. Well, that’s the way wars are.
Kur: We’re talking to Charles “Cully” Stimson. He’s the deputy assistant secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. He looks after detainee affairs.
And Charles, you’re actually here in part because Gene Robinson of the Post was here 24-hours ago saying things like this:
GENE ROBINSON (Washington Post columnist): (From audiotape) – calls into question, really, the United States’ commitment to the values and ideals that we said we want to spread throughout the world, such as due process and rule of law. And Guantanamo seems to mock those values.
Kur: How do you answer that?
MR. STIMSON: He’s wrong. That doesn’t mock those values at all. Indeed, we’re giving more rights to these terrorists than our own soldiers got during any conflict when they were detained or the Nazis got when they were detained during World War II.
During war, you’re not entitled to a trial. You’re not entitled to criminal charges. I mean, Mr. Robinson just has it wrong. He doesn’t understand his history. What happens is – I’ll tell you what’s happening in Guantanamo.
MR. STIMSON: Even though they’re not entitled to a trial and they’re not entitled to anything more than determining whether they’re enemy combatants or not, which we’ve done, we are annually reviewing them during the annual review process. And we are, as you know, transferring certain numbers of detainees, almost every month or every other month now, back to their home countries. We don’t have to do that. There’s no rule that says we have to do that, but we’re doing it anyway. Why? Simply because we don’t want to be the world’s jailers. And more importantly, or as importantly, is we believe other countries need to step up to the plate and accept responsibility for the people that came from their country and then waged war against us and our allies.
Kur: And apparently –
MR. STIMSON: And so Mr. Robinson has it wrong.
Kur: Apparently that’s proved to be a bit problematic, getting them out of there, even in some cases.
Let me ask you this, in the seconds we have remaining –
MR. STIMSON: Sure.
Kur: Can you update us at all – is there anything new on the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of those three detainees a little over a week ago?
MR. STIMSON: I can’t tell you anything more other than the investigation is ongoing. But you can be darn sure that when the investigation is over we will be telling everybody about the investigation and what the findings. Just like – unlike what Mr. Robinson said in his piece – we’re transparent about everything else we do in Guantanamo.
I mean, over a thousand – a thousand different media outlets have been to Guantanamo in four years, representing 41 different countries. I mean, that place is the most transparent detention facility in the world.
Kur: I suspect that there’s only so much you can see even when you visit, and unless you stay for a long time and mingle with the detainees and actually get their stories, you know, you can go see it, you can get a tour, but I don’t know how much you really learn about the place.
MR. STIMSON: Well, when you consider that, for instance, in the D.C. jail – I used to be a U.S. -- an assistant U.S. attorney here in Washington. There’s media there every day. There’s no media every day or almost every day in most detention facilities that are within our country.
Kur: (Off mike) -- talking about the circumstances under which the media gets to go or the ground rules. And I mean, I know it would be problematic to let reporters into the cells and all that.
MR. STIMSON : Well, actually, in Guantanamo – I mean, have you been?
Kur: I have not.
MR. STIMSON: Come on down.
Kur: (Chuckles.) Come on down.
MR. STIMSON: I’ll take you myself with other reporters. I mean, they go down. They come there in the morning. They leave in the afternoon. For the last four years there’s been a virtual constant presence of the media down there. And you know, we’ve taken two different European parliamentarian groups down there. I’ve taken them. They have all said very favorable things about the treatment conditions under which the detainees are living – much to the consternation of some of their fellow colleagues in Europe. They don’t want to hear good news. They only want to hear the outrageous bad news.
So I mean, no, we don’t have a 24-hour camera cable channel where you can just click on your computer and watch detainees, but we don’t have that in any jail or prison in the United States either.
Kur: All right. We’re going to have to let it go there. I appreciate your coming by today to talk us through this and to respond to Gene Robinson.
MR. STIMSON: I’ll come back anytime you invite me.
Kur: Charles “Cully” Stimson. He’s the deputy assistant secretary of Defense, the Office of Detainee Affairs at the Pentagon.
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