Voices
Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press/Associated Press

Their blood cries out

The problem at Gitmo is not the prisoners

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

The first problem at Guantanamo is not the food or the cages or the interrogations or any extrajudicial powers allegedly claimed by the Bush White House. The first problem at Guantanamo is that justice has been so long delayed.

Had trials been held, verdicts handed down, cases closed, and punishment meted, we wouldn't need a debate over torture vs. "enhanced interrogation techniques." We wouldn't have a political feud unfolding from South Carolina to Fort Leavenworth to Washington to Brussels over where to imprison 60-80 of 245 remaining Gitmo inmates who according to the Pentagon should stand trial. We wouldn't have the pleadings of the 9/11 mothers pounding the apparently soundproof door of our collective conscience.

My heart is with the mothers of 9/11. The families of firefighters killed in those attacks blasted President Barack Obama for his decisions affecting the military detention facility.

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More than announcing his intent to close it, Obama on Jan. 22 suspended legal proceedings at Gitmo for at least 120 days-three days after hearings finally opened in the cases of the five men accused of helping to carry out the 2001 attacks.

"My son cannot speak for himself, nor can the 3,000 individuals murdered on Sept. 11. It is our obligation as citizens of the United States to make sure that those who have committed these crimes are brought to justice," said a frustrated Maureen Santora, whose 23-year-old son Christopher was the youngest firefighter killed at the World Trade Center.

The right to "a speedy and public trial" and the due process provisions of the Constitution provide legally tested means for terrorists to be brought to trial. Yet the military tribunals the Bush administration jerry-built in 2002, followed by belated congressional action in 2006, provided fat targets to those looking to tie up cases in federal court-and handed Democrats and rabid Bush haters a political crutch in lieu of a needed solution.

The result: In six years since the first of over 800 inmates arrived at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, two terrorists have been found guilty and sentenced. One, Osama bin Laden's driver Salim Hamdan, was transferred to Yemen and freed. The other, bin Laden aide Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, is serving a life sentence at Guantanamo. Both men promised during their trials to attack Americans again at the first opportunity.

On March 10 it will be exactly two years since Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the self-professing 9/11 mastermind held at Guantanamo, told a military tribunal he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and admitted to at least 30 other acts of terrorism and murder.

If there's one thing Democrats and Republicans and all three branches of government should agree on, it's that all owe 9/11 victims an apology for straining at gnats while swallowing camels, and swift prosecutions in place of more delays. They can begin with Maureen Santora.

Update

WORLD readers took an interest in Heidi and Rocky Weaver, whose trip to Israel-with their five young children-prompted me to write about the joys of taking a family on the road even when times and places are difficult ("Seize the world," Aug. 9, 2008). I'm happy to report that the Weavers had a trip "that we will never forget," Rocky writes. "Visiting Jerusalem-walking on the old wall, celebrating succot (or the feast of tabernacles) and renewing our friendship with our former neighbors and their children were some of the highlights of our trip. We lived on the kibbutz for two weeks, and I think this gave our family a feel for modern Israeli life in a way that would be hard to grasp otherwise." The Weavers' trip took them far away from Gaza and rocket fire but brought them close to discussions of American and Israeli political life. Low point, according to Rocky? Getting over jet lag for children under 1 through age 9: "But once the children's clocks normalized, we knew we were where we ought to be."

If you have a question or comment for Mindy Belz, send it to mbelz@worldmag.com.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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