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Terror detainees and America's gulag

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The Defense Department's proposal could very well be a lost chapter out of George Orwell's timeless novel "1984": potential lifetime sentences for the hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody at a prison yet to be built outside the US, and thus beyond the reach of its constitutional protections on due process.

In keeping with the Orwellian overtones for the suggested prison, the Bush administration has even drummed up a name: Camp 6. The name echoes the novel's notorious Room 101, where prisoners suffered punishment in the form of their worst fears. But, alas, this is not fiction. This is the new reality as envisioned in this second term of President Bush.

The Defense Department's plan would apply to the approximately 500 prisoners (let us dispense with the "detainees" euphemism right now), in Guantánamo Bay. This proposal will also extend to those who may be captured during future counterterrorism operations.

Who are these prisoners? They are men who have outlived their usefulness as intelligence sources and against whom the government lacks sufficient evidence to charge them in courts.

The government will not turn these prisoners over to US courts and will not let them face a military tribunal.

All the while, the government demands that American citizens take it on good faith that these prisoners are too dangerous to ever be freed. Of course, many of them might indeed be guilty of terrorist acts, or of aiding in terrorist acts. However, under the rules set forth, these prisoners are guilty first, and will never have an opportunity to prove otherwise.

The proposal outlines the transfer of large numbers of Afghan, Saudi, and Yemeni inmates from the Guantánamo Bay detention center into new US-built prisons located in other countries. And it won't be in Canada, that's for sure. The prisons are likely to be in countries where torture can be administered without legal consequence.

Although prominent Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign relations committee, are opposed to this idea, implementation remains a strong possibility.

At this moment, the Defense Department plans to ask Congress for $25 million to build a new prison. The government insists these inmates will enjoy more comfort and freedom than they do now and will even have the chance to socialize with fellow inmates. Tea parties and kaffeeklatsches? Don't bet on it.


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