Friday, July 27, 2007

Guantanamo -- Again

A just-released report from the “Combating Terrorism Center” located at the United States Military Academy at West Point is the Pentagon’s latest counterattack in its struggle to keep the detainee prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba open and functioning.

The West Point report will not change any minds or votes in either house of the Congress. But that never was its raison d’etat. It was always going to be the Pentagon’s pedagogical rebuttal to a February 2006 study by two law professors from Seton Hall University of the “evidence” that had been used by the special “combatant status review tribunals” (CSRT) established by Bush to circumvent existing U.S. statutes and treaties prohibiting torture and any degrading treatment of more than 510 “enemy combatants” whose original “cases” had been heard in 2005.

The bases of the two studies are the now unclassified personnel data files prepared by the military on each detainee. The conclusions of the Seton Hall professors point clearly to a major perversion of justice perpetrated by the continued imprisonment of most inmates. In fact, fewer than 8 percent of those being held had even been formally designated as al-Qaeda adherents. Conversely, from the information in the data folders, 55 percent were or should have been exonerated and released.

The military’s study, which includes a critique of the Seton Hall conclusions (a “favor” reciprocated by Seton Hall at the House hearing), predictably found that the vast majority of the prisoners – 73 per cent – still constituted a definite if indeterminate threat to the citizens and interests of the United States or its coalition partners. Another 22 percent were potential threats, and could not be released.

There undoubtedly are some among the 360 still incarcerated in Guantanamo who, if released, would immediately resume field operations against the U.S. (In fact, the Pentagon says it has identified eight militants who did just that; one is now dead.) But that does not excuse the deliberate denial of fundamental human and legal rights to these men by the Bush administration in what amounts to the wholesale perversion of international law.

Compounding this miscarriage of justice – that is, the creation of the ad hoc CSRTs – is the Pentagon’s equally deliberate intention to attack the Seton Hall study as essentially flawed and swing public attitudes toward the military’s study. This last is not a reckless charge made by an opponent of the Guantanamo prison but a frank, straightforward admission one of the authors of the West Point study.

(This introduces yet another possible violation of law. I have a distinct memory that the Pentagon is enjoined from any activity that would constitute propaganda or lobbying for or against a military program or policy.)

The July 26 hearings are but the latest sparring about the whole question of incarcerating and interrogating detainees caught up in the “global war on terror” that President Bush declared right after September 11, 2001. Testifying before the committee were two “insiders.” Rear Admiral James McGarrah, one of the various commanders of the office at Guantanamo that handled administrative details and data collection for the CSRTs, viewed the process as fair and “vigorous.” Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Abraham, a military intelligence officer in the Army Reserve and a lawyer in civilian life, served six months on active duty during McGarrah’s time in command acquiring and collating “evidence” to be used by the CSRTs. He also was a member of one of the three-person CSRTs that determined whether a detainee was still a threat to the U.S. or could be released. Abraham concluded that the whole process was stacked against the detainees. The so-called rights the detainees had were at best pale reflections of those accorded to U.S. military personnel charged with a crime: no legal counsel, no right to see evidence or to confront accusers; and admissibility of hearsay “evidence.” The “file” on one case that came before his CSRT Abraham called “garbage.”

And in keeping with one of the first rules of systemic process, if you put garbage in, the output will be more garbage.

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