our own "Devil's Island"

The notorious Guyanese French prison, Devil's Island, is now a resort off the coast of French Guiana. According to an on-line tourist guide, "Visitors can make the crossing easily from Cayenne by motor launch or catamaran, enjoy lunch and tour the ruins easily in a half-day or day trip. It is possible to stay overnight in the former guard's mess."

But today, not far to the north, the U.S. maintains its own, 21st-century "Devil's Island," at Guantanamo Bay. There are no tourists.

For a year and a half, the United States has held hundreds of people captured during the war in Afghanistan as prisoners in Guantánamo Bay without access to family, lawyers or any semblance of due process. Another small group was shipped home recently, and there are reports that military trials for some prisoners may start soon. But that does not alter the fact that the detentions insult some of our most cherished ideals and harm our national interest.

. . . .

The extraordinary attacks of Sept. 11 clearly demanded extraordinary measures. All reports, moreover, indicate that the prisoners have not been physically mistreated. But America vowed after Sept. 11 that the terrorists would not be allowed to drag us down to their level. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has held more than 600 male prisoners, some as young as 13 — and of 42 different nationalities, including citizens of our closest allies — in a concentration camp. They have been declared "unlawful combatants" in order to deny them the protection of the Geneva Convention. They have been incarcerated on a naval base on Cuba, over which Cuba has no control, to put them beyond the reach of the law. The military set no limit on their detention, and it declared that if they were brought to trial, the proceedings would be before special military tribunals, which can act in secret, and their only appeal would be to the president — who stripped them of their rights in the first place.

Where is our Zola?

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Published on May 15, 2003 2:01 PM.

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