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The 600-man question



Published: Fri, August 2, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There is no easy answer to the question of what to do with 600 Al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly was correct, however, in ruling this week that the detainees are not entitled to the constitutional protections they'd receive if they were U.S. citizens, or even if they were being held on U.S. soil.

The detainees are in legal limbo, and for the time being there is no alternative.

The Bush administration is determined not to classify the detainees as prisoners of war, because that would open Camp X-ray to international oversight under the Geneva Convention. It would also guarantee that the detainees would be released at the end of hostilities, but who can say when the war on terror will end?

Time-consuming task

Certainly to the prisoners and to their families, a long time has elapsed since they were shipped to Cuba, about eight months. But the United States is entitled to identify these prisoners and to satisfy itself as to what role each played, either for the Taliban or Al-Qaida. That could, conceivably, take years.

At some point, the United States will have to take more definitive action regarding these prisoners. It will not do for the most powerful democracy on earth to hold hundreds of men indefinitely without charging them or giving them an opportunity to defend themselves against those charges.

The United States dare not follow the example of Iraq, for instance, which continues to hold hundreds of Kuwaiti prisoners more than a decade after the end of the Persian Gulf War. The United States is better than that, but it is going to take time and effort to work out the mechanics to prove it.

In the meantime, it is the obligation of the United States to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing and care for its detainees, which by all accounts it is doing.




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