Bishop urges US to respect rights of Guantanamo detainees

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2013 / 12:03 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ international justice head told the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that detainees held on terrorism charges at Guantanamo Bay deserve a just trial and should not be held indefinitely.

“Detainees have the right to a just and fair trial held in a timely manner,” wrote Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, to Secretary Hagel.

“The indefinite detention of detainees is not only injurious to those individuals, it also wounds the moral reputation of our nation, compromises our commitment to the rule of law, and undermines our struggle against terrorism.”

Bishop Pates, who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, penned a June 25 letter to the Defense Secretary asking for a review of the detention camp conditions and the release of prisoners who have been cleared.

The bishop noted that “86 of the 166 detainees were cleared for release three years ago and approved for transfer, but nonetheless remain confined in Guantanamo.” Many of these prisoners are “now placed in solitary confinement, they are filled with despair.”

He added that some prisoners have spent up to 11 years in prison without a trial.

Bishop Pates referenced Catholic social teaching, noting that while a country has a right to defend itself from terrorism, “this right cannot be exercised in the absence of moral and legal norms, because the struggle against terrorists must be carried out with respect for human rights and for the principles of a State ruled by law.”

“This moral teaching appears applicable to the situation in Guantanamo,” he asserted.

Bishop Pates also commented on a hunger strike in which roughly 100 prisoners are currently participating.

“Detainees retain basic human rights,” he said, cautioning against simply forced feeding the prisoners and instead asking that the United States “first do everything it can to address the conditions of despair that have led to this protest.”

In light of the troubling reports, the bishop asked Hagel to “conduct a careful review of conditions for detainees” and to “make good on the President's commitment to close this facility that has become a symbol of indefinite detention without trial.”

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