Ellison finds Guantanamo conditions better than expected

Share story

Keith Ellison
Rep. Keith Ellison talked about his visit to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to a group of law school students at the University of Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Keith Ellison has never been a fan of the Bush Administration and has been a vocal critic of the Guantanamo Bay military prison. He said he made the trip because he wanted to see the conditions firsthand.

"I felt that if I'm going to criticize the military commissions policy and the fact that there's no Habeus for everyone there that I have to go there," he said. "How else can I be informed critic?"

Ellison, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, has said for a long time that the military prison at Guantanamo should be closed and the 275 inmates there should be given fair trials in the United States. The inmates were captured during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

But Ellison now says he's not so sure the prison should be closed mostly because members of Congress and the media have access to the site. He said there is little known about the other secret CIA prisons across the world.

"I'm still highly skeptical of whether we need Guantanamo or not, but going there gave me something to think about..."

"I'm still highly skeptical of whether we need Guantanamo or not, but going there gave me something to think about because those secret prisons we know nothing about and at least at Guantanamo we know that people are getting adequately fed, they're getting medical attention and the military commissions act is in place," he said.

Ellison talked about his trip to a group of law school students at the University of Minnesota. He said he was denied access to the prisoners. Ellison said that lack of access prompted House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to decline a visit to the site.

Ellison also told the packed auditorium that the prisoners are being properly treated, but he still has grave concerns about their legal rights.

"If you think that it's objectionable because it's a gulag, you're wrong," he said. "That's not the reason it's a problem. I didn't see thumb screws. I didn't see blood on the floor or howling and screaming. But what I did see is a whole lot of people who have no process to change that condition that they're in."

Ellison said he doesn't doubt that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are bad people. But he said they should be given a fair trial in the United States. Ellison said he will continue to push for the passage of legislation that gives legal rights to the prisoners.

The Bush Administration has long argued that the military has the right to determine which foreign terrorism suspects can be held and how long they can be held. The Supreme Court heard arguments last month on whether the Guantanamo detainees could challenge their confinement in federal court.

Ellison isn't the first member of Minnesota's Congressional delegation to visit the military prison. Republicans Jim Ramstad and John Kline also visited the site. They both said after their trips that the prisoners are treated properly.