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A View From the Hill---Part the Fourth

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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May 24, 2007

Big news on Capitol Hill today. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat from Iowa, dropped a key “close Gitmo” bill in the hopper yesterday evening. It’s a solid bill that would effectively require the president to either charge or release every detainee held in connection with 9/11.It also totally shuts down the Gitmo system as it exists (meaning no more Combatant Status Review Tribunals, Administrative Review Board, or military commissions), and shifts the detainees into the criminal justice system.Here’re the details:– First, the president would have to close Gitmo within 120 days of the bill’s enactment.– Second, all of the detainees at Gitmo would be either transferred to Leavenworth, the military prison specifically built for national security inmates, or transferred to another country that would not abuse or torture the detainees.– Third, it would require the administration to either charge or release each detainee, ending indefinite detention and finally providing an effective mechanism to separate the innocent from the guilty.– Fourth, it’d provide more money to prosecute and defend these cases.Its political prospects are unclear right now. Notably, it closely tracks John McCain’s promise (during the Reagan library debate) to transfer all detainees to Leavenworth and expedite their cases. That is exactly what it does, and McCain’s comments may bode well for support among Republicans. Also, though a freestanding bill, it uses language typical of spending bills, barring the use of appropriated funds for particular things (like detention at Gitmo). Keep in mind Harkin is the third ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee.Now, as many of you probably know, Senator Harkin is no stranger to human rights abuses. A Naval aviator, he worked for Democratic Congressman Neal Smith in the late ’60s, early 1970s. In 1970, he accompanied Mr. Smith to a South Vietnamese prison on Con Son Island, where he stumbled upon a secret room with tortured prisoners held in “tiger cages.” His pictures of that scene, along with the My Lai scandal (a Seymour Hersh scoop), provoked widespread criticism of the administration and fueled opposition to the war.The tiger cages experience certainly explains his leadership on Gitmo closure. I guess one notable difference between that and this is that Gitmo is an American, not a South Vietnamese, facility.You go, Senator Harkin. Much love.

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