Gitmo and Us – comments
After circulating my note on Gitmo, the Supreme Court struck down the government’s denial of the right of habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees. The BBC News headline was “Foreign suspects held in Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts, the US Supreme Court has ruled.” The 270 detainees at Gitmo (down from the peak of 680 in May 2003) include some of the most dangerous people on earth and some total innocents arrested for bounty and revenge by fellow Afghani enemies. Now they will be allowed to make their case before in impartial judge. In his majority decision Justice Kennedy said: “few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary as the responsibility to hear challenges to the authority of the Executive to imprison a person.”
There are issues of “how to treat them” and of “how to try them”. McCain has disagreed with the President on torture, saying that “Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries with less respect for basic human rights that they could issue their own legislative ‘reinterpretations,’” but agrees with him that enemy combatants in Guantanamo should not have access to Federal courts. However, in December 2003 after a visit to Gitmo McCain and Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.), wrote to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that "A serious process must be established in the very near term either to formally treat and process the detainees as war criminals or to return them to their countries for appropriate judicial action.." The fact remains (or at least high probability) that innocent men have been held in Gitmo for over five years with no opportunity to clear themselves. The administration’s level of incompetence in this matter is itself a crime (read Philippe Sands “Torture Team, Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values”).
Many of you sent very interesting commented on my note and your reactions covered the spectrum.
David Keene (Chairman of the American Conservative Union)
As for the poor fellow who tossed the grenade, would you have preferred summary execution at the scene (as was done by our troops during WWII with combatants out of uniform — the only people to whom the Geneva Convention applies)?
You said: “… Al Qaeda and others (remember blond haired, blue eyed Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing).”
You might be interested in learning that McVeigh’s partner Terry Nichols made some 50+ phone calls to an al Qaida cell in the Philippines before and after the OK bombing. A friend of mine, a Pentagon consultant, has the phone records
Not to say there is no injustice at Gitmo, because there is … mostly with relatively innocent people turned in for rewards by Afghans and others seeking cash. Keene has some eloquent examples of this. But your broadside is more than a little over the top.
Here is an exchange with a friend of mine —
“Jameson: From what I have heard from David Keene, there is a large cohort (maybe a third of the detainees?) of people at Gitmo who were turned in, in some cases falsely, for reward money by tribal opponents in Afghanistan etc., not for anything they did. The military has not been very smart about this … better to have shipped most of these people home by now, to let them be dealt with by their own governments, for better or worse (the latter, probably).”
Here is my reply:
“I’ve heard the same from others. I’ve also read every transcript of every Combatant Status Review Tribunal that has been released. The deck was so stacked against the prisoners, there was little opportunity to introduce exculpatory evidence, even when that might have been appropriate. That attitude could have offended the sensibilities of the Court. The military wasn’t very smart about it, as you say.
“They would have been much better off to focus on the big fish and be more accommodating of the much lesser individuals, including recognizing that some might have been wrongly detained, particularly considering the circumstances of how people got swept up, including in the fashion Keene describes, and allowing space for those individuals to make their case/present their evidence. There were–and are–serious problems in treating figures like KSM, Ramzi Yousef, et. al. as criminal defendants, and now we’re back to that . . . .”
Jameson Campaigne (Chicago)
It’s true of all of life that we are not on the efficiency frontier. Some of the Bush admin exercises have been successful in foiling plots. But presumably they could have been done without as much sacrifice in personal liberty. Somebody must be thinking about win-win reforms in security policy along those lines.
Jim Roumasset (Prof. of Econ, U. of Hawaii)
Oh warren, I so value and respect your opinions, but oh gosh how I disagree. In fact I am 180 degrees on the other side of your position on Gitmo. The only black eye that I see in Gitmo is that we don’t move faster to put these guys on trial and then carry out the sentencing. Hey all need speedy trials. I have no problem with waterboarding….in fact I was disappointed with McCain in his stance on the issue. Being a firm believer in the death penalty I see no problem with sentencing anyone that is convicted of crimes where it is justified.
The problem with America is that we coddle our people…..it is going to be our downfall. Our youth who now expect instant gratification, are allowed to get away with minor problems … then when they grow up they expect that they can get away with infractions. Just like illegal immigration… I keep asking what is it that people don’t understand about the word illegal.
Then if that socialist candidate on the demo ticket is elected America is going to be in extreme financial trouble. He has no concept of either domestic policy nor foreign policy. The only experience he has is with the liberal give away programs in the corrupt side of Chicago.
But then McCain is good on foreign and security issues, but hopefully he will pick a veep candidate with a good domestic and fiscal background.. and the only one with that experience is Romney in my opinion.
I fear that with Obama’s style, energy and charisma he has a leg up on McCain. Come the end of January, I feel that the U.S. dollar is going to be further down the toilet…..along with give away programs and the increase of taxes that the south side Chicago kid has in mind, it will not be worth investing or working for a brighter further. I simply don’t understand why it is we have to reward those who don’t earn their keep…providing them with all sorts of benefits that those who work hard can barely afford for themselves. I keep asking where the incentive is for those individuals who want to work hard, do better and find a better financial life for themselves.
We need to make congress a part time body, their salaries so they had to get part time jobs in their districts….thus they would have to go back to their districts to be a part of their districts. Seems to me that the more they are in Washington, the more taxes they raise and money they spend. And believe me, this goes for both demos and reps. As you know most spend the majority of their time within the beltway.
I would move to have all departments cut by 20% within 10 years. Totally reduce social programs … if a person is going to receive financial benefits they must do community service first. No work – no pay.
Stan Harper (Bakersfield)
Many thanks. I am not so sure that we are on such different political pages. We both started our adult political lives voting for Goldwater and never did a vote feel so right and so good. I want the guilty to be punished, but the question I raised was how sure do we want to be that we don’t punish a lot of innocent people. If we had arrested suspected terrorists and tried them as the criminals they no doubt are with our established judicial procedures (not perfect I am sure) justice would have been done much more quickly without all the embarrassment we now face. Why did Bush/Cheney think they needed to create a whole new military system of justice that has slowed and jeopardized the whole thing? McCain is right to oppose torture. Our Amy field manual on this subject (which McCain wants us to stick to) argues that information gathered with torture is unreliable. Is the Army wrong? If we loose our respect for the rights of individuals we lose our claim to the moral high ground. That is not a trivial loss. We became a great nation in part because we put those rights about the state.
By the way, the south side of Chicago where Obama hung out is where I earned my Ph.D. in econ under Milton Friedman, so it can’t be all bad. Damn cold though.
I’m sorry, Warren, but I do believe that people who have attempted to kill American soldiers and who are committed to the destruction of the United States as part of an ongoing effort by an opponent that continues to be committed to our destruction should be detained without trial. I do not consider lobbing a grenade into a vehicle full of our soldiers to be a youthful indiscretion like drunk driving or graffiti that a few years can expunge. The problem in this entire debate, I believe, has been the attempt to employ concepts of criminal justice to war combatants. In normal declared wars this is not done, and properly so. (I am not an international law scholar, but I believe that, in normal declared wars, there are restrictions against criminal trials of POWs.) The reason why the criminal justice system is incompatible with a war situation (which, despite my disgust with Bush, I do believe we are in) is the motivation of the actions: a criminal can be judged by the rules of the society who tries him whereas an enemy combatant is committed to the destruction of that society and owes no loyalty to that society. Therefore, the enemy combatant’s obligation is to resist, even in captivity. Similarly, the enemy combatant’s confederates and supporters are also often beyond the reach of the sanctions and structures of the society that make criminal proceedings (with evidentiary requirements) possible. In the World War II context, for example, a captured kamikaze pilot fished out of the ocean from his sunken plane would not have been expected to plea bargain or turn state’s evidence against his fellow pilots.
I’m sorry to rant, but I feel that the nation is being forced into false philosophical dilemmas in the war on terror. I also feel that this is an example of how, because of understandable disgust with Bush, intelligent and clear-thinking people have been rejected valid concepts of the war on terror. It’s seen most clearly in the way everybody has taken to criticizing the Patriot Act even though, in more than six years of criticism, I have yet to hear anybody name SPECIFIC provisions of that law that I can agree are unreasonable or objectionable. And, all I can say is GOD DAMN that SOB Bush for so tarnishing everything connected with him and the conservative project that otherwise valid (and necessary policies) have been rendered suspect.
Jim Colt (Lawyer, Washington DC)
These are dark days. Those in power in our country who have orchestrated this war demean me as a Veteran, and all my fellow Veterans before me. There are far more important issues at stake here in this torture business than the military’s petty and vain attempts to wrest a few drops of questionable intelligence from a few hundred miserable, mistreated POW’s. The Bushies are so narrow-minded, and their view of the world, and of history, and of our important place in it, is so limited that they are blind to the damage they do.
I can hardly believe that the majority of envoys and Administration representatives that Bush has sent abroad during his terms of office are persons who have never been out of the United States before. Self-righteous asses they are, who, like Bush when he cockily squeezed from behind the shoulders of the German Chancellor, are like Babes in the Woods, Naive pinheads, who rightfully should never have come to power.
BTW, if you ever manage to corner Ralph Nader sometime, call me, and I’ll hold him so you can punch him, and then you can hold him…..
Again, nice letter.
Steve Paliwoda (Army Veteran, Alaska)
Hi, Warren, am always happy to hear from you,
Prisoners being held in Gitmo are experiencing deteriorating mental health because of their isolated confinement. In a new report from an organization which is not always objective about the truth, especially about Russia, Human Rights Watch said 185 of the 270 detainees at Gitmo were being housed in tougher conditions then the highest security "supermax" prisons in the US. Most of those detainees spent 22 hours (!) a day in cells with little , if any, natural light, and are only allowed two hours of exercise each day. None of these detainees has been allowed family visits, and most have so far not been allowed to make phone calls home. The Pentagon recently changed policy to allow detainees to phone home once a year.
"Security measures don’t justify locking people in windowless cells (cages) 22 hours a day, for months and years on end, with almost no opportunity for human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation", said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.
While the report conceded that the detainees were not being kept in solitary confinement-since many can communicate through the gap bellow cell doors-it said the reality of "extreme social isolation" was causing the mental health of many detainees to deteriorate. The report pointed to the examples of a number of detainees , including 13 Uighurs-from the Chinese province of Xinjiang-who are housed in isolated conditions despite having been cleared for release when a host country can be found.
Human Rights watch also raises concerns about the mental health of two detainees whose military commissions are due to reconvene at Gitmo Bay alter this month.
Citing the concerns of lawyers for detainees , the report says Mohammad Jawad, a 23-year-old Afghan accused of murder, cannot assist his defence because of his unstable mental condition. It also claims that Salim Ahmed Hamdan-the alleged driver for Osama bin Laden and first detainee to appear before a military commission-cannot make competent decisions about his trial because "he is so distraught over his living conditions".
WARREN, SPEAK MORE TO CONGRESSMEN TO INITIATE BUSH IMPEACHMENT AND TRIAL FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY!
Denis Gryzlov (Russian living in England)