Friday, February 17, 2006

Dahlia Lithwick on Gitmo

From Slate

It's an immutable rule of journalism that when you unearth three instances of a phenomenon, you've got a story. So, you might think three major reports on Guantanamo Bay, all released within a span of two weeks, might constitute a big story. But somehow they do not.

Guantanamo Bay currently holds over 400 prisoners. The Bush administration has repeatedly described these men as "the worst of the worst." Ten have been formally charged with crimes and will someday face military tribunals. The rest wait to learn what they have done wrong. Two major studies conclude that most of them have done very little wrong. A third says they are being tortured while they wait.

No one disputes that the real criminals at Guantanamo should be brought to justice. But now we have proof that most of the prisoners are guilty only of bad luck and that we are casually destroying their lives. The first report was written by Corine Hegland and published two weeks ago in the National Journal. Hegland scrutinized the court documents of 132 prisoners—approximately one-quarter of the detainees—who have filed habeas corpus petitions, as well as the redacted transcripts of the hearings that 314 prisoners have received in appearing before military Combatant Status Review Tribunals—the preliminary screening process that is supposed to ascertain whether they are "enemy combatants," as the Bush administration claims. Hegland's exhaustive review concludes that most of the detainees are not Afghans and that most were not picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The vast majority were instead captured in Pakistan. Seventy-five of the 132 men are not accused of taking part in hostilities against the United States. The data suggests that maybe 80 percent of these detainees were never al-Qaida members, and many were never even Taliban foot soldiers.

So why are they still there?

The only real justification for the continued disgrace that is Guantanamo is that the government refuses to admit it's made a mistake. Releasing hundreds of prisoners after holding them for four years without charges would be big news. Better, a Guantanamo at which nothing has happened in four years. Better to drain the camp slowly, releasing handfuls of prisoners at a time. Last week, and with little fanfare, seven more detainees were let go. That brings the total number of releasees to 180, with 76 transferred to the custody of other countries. Are these men who are quietly released the "best of the worst"? No. According to the National Journal one detainee, an Australian fundamentalist Muslim, admitted to training several of the 9/11 hijackers and intended to hijack a plane himself. He was released to his home government last year. A Briton said to have targeted 33 Jewish organizations in New York City is similarly gone. Neither faces charges at home.

Guantanamo represents a spectacular failure of every branch of government. Congress is willing to pass a bill stripping courts of habeas-corpus jurisdiction for detainees but unwilling to probe what happens to them. The Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush conferred seemingly theoretical rights enforceable in theoretical courtrooms. The right to challenge a government detention is older than this country and yet Guantanamo grinds on.

It grinds on because the Bush administration gets exactly what it pays for in that lease: Guantanamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.

2 comments:

Clark Kent said...

Hey folks… I know its hard to get through your liberal heads- but our enemies are killing people over CARTOONS! When they hit LA or NY (again), maybe you’ll #$%!ing get it!

Hume's Ghost said...

That's nice. Now care to debate the content of the article?