On the day after President Bush announced a troop surge in Iraq, CNN chose to commemorate an odd "anniversary." As of January 11, it has now been five years since the first terrorist suspects arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The cable network’s "Your World Today" program used this date to highlight the "allegations of mistreatment amounting to torture" at the facility. On Thursday, the hour-long show featured two segments and a news brief on the subject, all heavily focusing on how the camp could be shut down, not whether it should be closed. After an intro piece on the history of the camp, anchor Hala Gorani interviewed Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth and began her questioning with this loaded lead-in:
Hala Gorani: "Well, Human Rights Watch says detaining hundreds of men without charge at Guantanamo has been a legal and political debacle of historic proportions. But what can human rights groups do to shut the facility down or put pressure on governments? Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth joins us now live from Washington. That was a quote from you, ‘a legal and political debacle of historic proportions,’ Ken. Did you imagine in 2001, that in 2007 Guantanamo Bay would still be operating?"
Ken Roth: "I didn't imagine it at that stage. I think that, you know, this fifth year anniversary gives us an opportunity to reassess what really has been a disaster. You know, ostensibly Guantanamo was set up in order to help fight the, the fight against terrorism. In fact, it has proven utterly counterproductive. Guantanamo has become a symbol of the Bush Administration's lawlessness when it comes to fighting terrorism. Its torture, its detention without trial, even its disappearance of people, because the 14 people who were recently moved there had disappeared for years and no one knew where they were, they basically had become basically nonentities. That has become a tool for terrorist recruiters. It has undermined the cooperation that people need to fight terrorism around the world. It has meant the United States has lost the moral high ground in the important fight against terrorism."
Gorani’s questions focused solely on how Guantanamo could be closed. During the segment, which aired at 12:47pm, she failed to ask a single question about whether it should be shut down. Nor did the CNN anchor press Roth on what the positive effects of keeping terrorist suspects away from society might be:
Gorani: "So, what should happen now? I mean, if you had it your way and you could make recommendations directly to the President, what would you say?"
Roth: "Well, what I would say is, identify the relative handful of people who have committed serious crimes and prosecute them before a fair tribunal, not the sub-standard military commissions that the Bush Administration is pushing, but a court-martial or a civilian court. Let them have a fair trial and punish them because nobody has been punished in Guantanamo. Nobody has had a fair trial. As for the rest, and the vast majority are people who were just unfortunate enough to be turned in by some bounty hunter who wanted the $10,000 that the United States was handing out for, for terrorists in Afghanistan. Let those people go. There's no evidence against them. We have looked through many of the files -- they are virtually devoid of evidence. I mean, it's time to admit that this is a mistake and send these people home."
Gorani: "And some of the concerns expressed by international human rights attorneys is that when you release some of these Guantanamo detainees to their home governments, that they might face prosecution there. There has to be some sort of interim solution -- what would you suggest that interim solution should be?"
Roth: "That is a real problem in some of the cases. For example, the Wiegers (ph), who are Muslims from China, cannot be sent back to China. They'll be tortured or worse in China. And so you need to find countries that will accept them, that will allow them to, to live safely. Theoretically, that should be the United States, because the U.S. created this problem. But so far that doesn't seem to be a possibility. So, we have been encouraging the European Union to, as a humanitarian gesture, take some of these detainees as part of a deal in which the Bush Administration admits that it will close Guantanamo. So far though, the only government to have done that is tiny, little Albania, which has taken a handful of detainees, otherwise no government has."
Gorani closed the segment by pitching Mr. Roth yet another softball about closing the camp:
Gorani: "All right. A quick last word. Five years from now, do you think Guantanamo Bay will still be open?"
Roth: "If Guantanamo Bay is there, it should only be to detain people who have been convicted after a fair trial. If it is still there to detain people without trial, that will be a disaster for America's standing in the world and a disaster for the effectiveness of the fight against terrorism."
Earlier in the program, at 12:31, Gorani read a news brief that blithly repeated Guantanamo prisoners’ allegations of torture:
Gorani: "The fifth anniversary of the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was marked with protests around the world. Amnesty International staged a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in London that called for the facility to be closed down . Former detainees have come forward with allegations of ill treatment amounting to torture. Other protests were expected in Japan, Italy, Spain, Israel and the U.S."
On June 7, 2007, the United States will mark the one-year anniversary of the successful elimination of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Does anyone think that important date will receive as much attention from CNN?