Put My Son on Trial — or Free Him

By Khalid Al-Odah, founder the Kuwaiti Family Committee four years ago to secure the legal rights of foreign nationals imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay (THE WASHINGOTN POST, 02/09/06):

KUWAIT CITY — The United States recently responded to pressure from the German government and released detainee Murat Kurnaz from Guantanamo Bay. Although he spent four years in the U.S. prison there, Kurnaz was never charged with a crime, and there are no indications that he was involved in any terrorist-related activity. Had he been afforded his constitutional right to due process upon detention, it is highly likely that this innocent man would not have wasted four years of his life in prison.

Two years ago the Supreme Court mandated due process for men held at Guantanamo. More recently, in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld , the court declared that military tribunals are not an appropriate method for these trials. Even so, the Bush administration maintains that the Hamdan ruling directly applies only to the 10 detainees who have been formally labeled “enemy combatants.” What happens to the other 450 or so detainees who have not been charged with any crimes and who, like Murat Kurnaz, are likely to be innocent?

As hundreds of innocent men sit in prison, why is the Bush administration still fighting the idea that American values embrace the right to a fair trial and that a jerry-built military commission represents no such thing?

For me, as the father of a Kuwaiti prisoner held at the camp, this news of weeks past has been a part of my everyday life for 4 1/2 years. My son, Fawzi, was a schoolteacher in a region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border before he was captured by bounty hunters. I’m told that he now lives alone in a cell at Guantanamo; our only contact with him consists of outdated letters with whole sections blacked out. The anguish is endless for families that have been kept in the dark for over four years while their husbands, sons and brothers suffer in a secret world.

I hope that people understand that the efforts we’ve undertaken for our Kuwaiti family members in U.S. courts of law, and in global courts of public opinion, have never been predicated simply on a demand to release the detainees. Our demand has been to charge and try them, or to release them. Give the prisoners due process so their guilt or innocence can be determined fairly. In a country that presumes innocence, it is categorically unjust to imprison so many who are probably innocent to punish so few who may be guilty.

My son is not a terrorist. He was, in fact, a great admirer of American political values and legal principles before he was kidnapped and sent to Guantanamo. Our family is nonetheless willing to undergo the ordeal of trial and judgment, if only the U.S. government would allow it to happen.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in the Hamdan case, we’ll see if a reaffirmation of due process by the court will have any more effect than it did two years ago.

Yet it is also a woeful irony that the Bush administration may now see closing the Guantanamo prison as a positive and even favorable option, short-term political fallout notwithstanding. For with the detainees out of sight and out of mind, the administration could still avoid the larger issues and continue its unlawful policies without restriction. Guantanamo, a symbol of national fear and indecisiveness, would be conveniently shuttered. World opinion as well as U.S. opinion might then be tragically diluted.

How many more deaths and years of injustice will it take before the United States ends this violation of both human rights and U.S. law, and either formally charges the detainees with crimes or sets them free? If the Bush administration truly wants to close Guantanamo, it should first work to apply a fair legal process to separate the guilty from the innocent.