Do GITMO detainees really want to transfer to stateside? Only time will tell

With a Guantanamo (GITMO) detainee’s counsel indicating last week that he “had no objection to his client’s facing trial in federal court, as opposed to in the military commission,” one has to wonder if the detainees truly understand what to expect if they are transferred stateside for trial in a civilian, Article III court.  I think it’s quite possible that they might be in for a very unpleasant surprise.

In the first place, I have long believed that military commission trials as they are currently organized compare very favorably with civilian Federal courts in terms of the rights the accused are afforded.

Perhaps more importantly from a defense perspective, if a detainee is convicted, he may very well get a more lenient punishment from a military commission where sentences are determined by “members” (similar to civilian jurors), as opposed to civilian court where the sentences are determined by experienced Federal judges who have been very tough in terrorism cases.

One example is the sentence given to ex-GITMO detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was transferred stateside and tried in civilian court in the Southern District of New YorkAlthough acquitted of 284 of 285 charges, the trial judge nevertheless imposed a life sentence on a single conspiracy count, despite Federal sentencing guidelines that would have allowed a sentence as short as twenty years.

We must also consider the conditions of detention.  My guess is that if the detainees were to find themselves in a stateside supermax prison, it would not be long until they would be howling in protest.

Why?  Contrary to what may have been the case years ago, life for detainees at GITMO is not what they will find at, for example, a supermax prison such as the United States Penitentiary Administrative-Maximum Facility (ADMAX) in Florence, Colorado.  CNN reported last year about the Colorado ADMAX:

Many of the more than 400 inmates spend as much as 23 hours a day alone in 7-by-12-foot concrete cells.  Meals are slid through small holes in the doors.  Bed is a concrete slab dressed with a thin mattress and blankets.

A single window about 42 inches high and 4 inches wide allows some natural light but is made so prisoners cannot see beyond the building. Cells have unmovable stools and desks made of concrete. Solid walls prevent prisoners from seeing other cells or having direct contact with other inmates.


Inmates have little contact outside of guards and prison staff.  They must wear leg irons, handcuffs and stomach chains when taken outside their cells — and be escorted by guards.  A recreation hour is allowed in an outdoor cage slightly larger than the prison cells.  Inside the cage, only the sky is visible.

How does that compare to GITMO today?  According USA Today, military officials explained that “the majority of detainees now stay in communal living areas, with many of them spending up to 22 hours outside of their cells reading books, watching TV and playing sports.”  They can choose “how to occupy that time, from watching the World Cup or a soap opera to taking art classes.”  A Navy officer said:

Camp 6 detainees can play sports on the facility’s half-sized soccer field and can take classes on subjects such as life skills and foreign languages, [the officer] said.  They can also request reading material from the library, which consists of around 19,000 books in 15 different languages.  Detainees also are allowed to video-conference with their family members and legal teams.

One can only assume that the detainees understand that if they go to the U.S. for trial, and end up staying in a supermax prison home, there will be no need to pack their art supplies or sports equipment.  Wonder if any of those in Colorado’s ADMAX would want to switch?

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