Unhappy Anniversary, Gitmo


Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. I’ve given Obama a pass on his promise to close it down because he has been stymied by Congress, though I don’t think he’s put any real effort into overcoming their recalcitrance. But the things that have gone on there and continue to go on there are a stain on the country and are continuing to undermine — not help, but hurt — our ability to fight terrorism.

A few facts. There are 171 men still held at Gitmo; exactly one faces actual charges. 36 more are expected to face charges, but they will do so under a system of military tribunals that is so unjust that no fewer than five JAG prosecutors, all of them decorated military officers, have resigned in protest rather than take part in them. 46 of them will likely never face a trial of any kind because the government says they are too dangerous to be released but impossible to prosecute because much of the evidence against them was obtained through torture.

And 57 of them — one third — have already been deemed to be innocent by the government but continue to be held in prison. 537 prisoners were released by the Bush administration, but as soon as Obama took office Congress decided that releasing detainees should be far more difficult, no matter how innocent they may be.

Congress imposed a requirement that the Defense Department certify a prisoner did not pose a threat if released, a guarantee that officials said was nearly impossible to grant. The law Obama signed Dec. 31 softened the language, but it’s been a year since a single man has been transferred out.

“These are men who were in their early 20s when they were picked up and now they are in their early 30s and a significant amount of their lives has slipped away while this debate has gone on and on and on,” said Cori Crider, a lawyer for the British human rights group Reprieve who represents several Guantanamo prisoners.

Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Congress was more interested in scoring political points, and should listen to security experts.

“We are not talking about releasing anyone who is dangerous. We’re talking about releasing people who the intelligence and military communities have unanimously agreed should be released,” Katznelson said.

Congress also has prohibited moving any Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. for detention or trial, which effectively blocked Obama’s goal of closing the prison by January 2009 and trying the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and others accused of war crimes in a civilian court. Mohammed is expected to be arraigned at the base later this year.

This has been an incredible stain on the United States and has destroyed our credibility when we say we support human rights and the rule of law.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve given Obama a pass on his promise to close it down because he has been stymied by Congress

    He could have made it happen. Face the truth: Obama is expanding the police state and intelligence community and either reneged on his promise or never meant it to begin with.

  2. Jordan Genso says

    @1 Marcus Ranum

    He could have made it happen.

    Would you be able to explain how? I’m truly curious, as I’ve also been under the impression he couldn’t without:
    A) Congress approving it, and
    B) Finding a location that would accept them

    IIRC, there were a couple locations willing to satisfy criteria (B), but then later backed out, and at no point was the Senate willing to cooperate.

    I may have a misunderstanding of the issue. If so, please let me know.

  3. says

    …the government says they are too dangerous to be released but impossible to prosecute because much of the evidence against them was obtained through torture.

    There’s one way I like to frame the torture issue when talking about the ones who are supposedly guilty: Obstruction of justice. The torturers are knowingly and deliberately subverting the justice system by knowingly and deliberately choosing to make the evidence inadmissible in court by way of torture.

    If a genuinely guilty terrorist somehow manages to get out (they’re more likely to die in an ‘accident’), the torturers and the people who allowed them to torture will be the first ones I blame. If they had used “unenhanced” means of interrogation, they would have stood a chance of getting admissible evidence and putting them on trial.

  4. Didaktylos says

    I’ve sometimes wondered if the unspoken purpose of the Gitmo concentration camp was to create a back story for moles that US Intelligence would be inserting into the radical Islamist milieu.

  5. says

    Jordan Genso writes:
    Would you be able to explain how?

    Since most of the decisions that supported Gitmo were pushed by the executive branch, decisions un-supporting Gitmo could also be pushed by the executive branch. If I understand the situation approximately correctly the Bush administration effectively told DOJ to find that Gitmo was legal. Well, tell them to find it illegal, then tear the whole thing down. It’s all based on some bullshit legalistic parsing of the GC.

    BTW, I may be one of the tiny handful of USAians who have read the Geneva Conventions and Protocols in their entirety. The “interpretations” that justify indefinitely holding people in Gitmo as “illegal combatants” are not “interpretations” they are “lies” – the GC don’t say anything whether you have to be part of a declared war or wearing a uniform or a combatant or not. The terms used in the GC are completely different than the terms used in Washington – for obvious reasons. I don’t expect you to take my word for this; do your own research.

  6. says

    I’ve also been under the impression he couldn’t without:
    A) Congress approving it, and
    B) Finding a location that would accept them

    The “finding a location that would accept them” is bullshit, I hope you realize. A lot of the people in Gitmo should be sent home – hopefully they’d be accepted there.

    There are a few people like KSM who actually have been implicated in conspiracy to commit murder, etc. The case against KSM would be better than that against someone like that idiot Moussaoui, except that they can’t try him because any evidence they have against him is tainted by torture.

    The government has stupidly checkmated itself and is unwilling to just admit it and move on. What should they do? Let ‘em all go. Send them home. Even KSM. What’s he going to do? Seriously. They’re individuals. They’re not all-powerful godninjas that are going to do any damage more severe than the international relations damage Gitmo is constantly doing. If they just let ‘em go and shut it down and give the victims a bunch of cash as a way of saying “sorry!” (maybe don’t give KSM a cash settlement, OK, how’s that for mean?) Let them go write their memoirs.

    If we really need a few terrorists in Gitmo, put Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush in there with KSM for a year or two, then shut the place down.

  7. says

    Ed, this is a bit off topic to this post but I couldn’t find the contact form — what do you think of Richard Carrier’s lates post that claims the new law does not grant the president the power to detain US citizens indefinitely and that it’s all lies by the irrational left?
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/134

    You’re probably aware of the post but just in case it hasn’t yet been brought to your attention as something to comment on.

  8. Jordan Genso says

    Thanks Marcus for the response. You have a very strong case. As such, I will now advocate for the President doing just that, after he wins re-election. The route you are advocating could be easily demagogued (in an unfortunately effective way), and the “political capital” it would cost him may be inefficient in a first term when there’s numerous other issues that could then be negatively impacted.

  9. says

    Don’t forget about Bagram – still loads of people being detained there.

    If I may offer a “way out” prediction: When we’re ejected or crawl from Afghanistan, the detainees in Bagram will make up some of the new political leadership of Afghanistan once puppet Karzai is overthrown. For some reason a long stay in prison is seen as the indicator of someone who’ll make a good leader.

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