Febraury 8, 2006
We've heard the same talking points about Gitmo detainees over and over
again: "they were captured on the battle field in Afghanistan, they are
bloodthirsty terrorists, they are bad people".
"These are people picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan. They weren't wearing uniforms ... but they were there to kill."
-- President Bush, June 20, 2005
"These detainees are dangerous enemy combatants....They were picked
up on the battlefield, fighting American forces, trying to kill
-- White House press secretary Scott McClellan, June 21, 2005
"The people that are there are people we picked up on the
battlefield, primarily in Afghanistan. They're terrorists. They're bomb
makers. They're facilitators of terror. They're members of Al Qaeda and
the Taliban....We've let go those that we've deemed not to be a
continuing threat. But the 520-some that are there now are serious,
deadly threats to the United States."
-- Vice President Cheney, June 23, 2005
"These are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield.
They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers,
[Osama bin Laden's] bodyguards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the
20th 9/11 hijacker."
-- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, June 27, 2005
But thanks to a new report, we now know what we've suspected for a long time: that many of the detainees at Gitmo are innocent of any crime.
- Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not
determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States
or its coalition allies.
- Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as
al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive
connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive
affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.
- The Government has detained numerous persons
based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact,
are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist.
Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations
varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed
"fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% --
are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or
groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of
the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified.
- Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United
States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or
the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This
86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were
handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States
offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.
- Finally, the population of persons deemed not to
be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more
serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy
The following quotes come from the National Journal and they summarize the findings of the report.
Falsehoods About Guantanamo:
- A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now
held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, let alone on
"the battlefield in Afghanistan" (as Bush asserted) while "trying to
kill American forces" (as McClellan claimed).
- Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members.
- Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were
not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were
innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the
Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.
- The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather
handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by
villagers of highly doubtful reliability.
Who Is at Guantanamo Bay:
Seventy-five of the 132 men, or more than half the
group, are -- like Farouq Ali Ahmed, the subject of National Journal's
accompanying story -- not accused of taking part in hostilities against
the United States or its coalition partners. (The 75 include 10
detainees whom the U.S. government "no longer" considers enemy
combatants, although at least eight of the 10 are still being held at
Guantanamo.) Typically, documents describe these men as "associated"
with the Taliban or with Al Qaeda -- sometimes directly so, and
sometimes through only weak or distant connections. Several men worked
for charities that had some ties to Al Qaeda; Farouq lived in a house
associated with the Taliban.
Some of the "associated" men are said to have attended jihadist
training camps before September 11, an accusation admitted by some and
denied by others. The U.S. government says that some of the suspected
jihadists trained in Afghanistan, even though other records show that
they had not yet entered the country at the time of the training camps.
Just 57 of the 132 men, or 43 percent, are accused of being on a
battlefield in post-9/11 Afghanistan.
The government's documents tie only eight of the 132 men directly to plans for terrorist attacks outside of Afghanistan.
At least eight prisoners at Guantanamo are there even
though they are no longer designated as enemy combatants. One perplexed
attorney, whose client does not want public attention, learned that the
man was no longer considered an enemy combatant only by reading a
footnote in a Justice Department motion asking a federal judge to put a
slew of habeas corpus cases on hold. The attorney doesn't know why the
man is still in Cuba.
"The people you've been going up against in court have been saying he's
the worst of the worst, Osama's right-hand man," said Anant Raut, an
attorney with the Washington firm of Weil, Gotshal, & Manges. "Then
you go in there, and it's a guy who is as confused as you are as to why
he is there." Raut has one client, a Saudi, who is classified as an
enemy combatant largely because he spent a couple of weeks on a Taliban
bean farm. The man says the Taliban imprisoned him there because they
thought he was a Saudi government spy.
National Journal could review only the unclassified parts of detainee
files, consisting of memos, a summary of the evidence, and a transcript
of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal proceeding. But federal courts
ordered the Defense Department to give the volunteer lawyers the
classified evidence by which their clients were found to be enemy
combatants. The lawyers cannot discuss specifics of that evidence, but
they uniformly say that nothing additional is there, just details and
sourcing relating to the unclassified evidence.
"There is no smoking gun," said John Chandler, a partner in the Atlanta
office of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan. One of his Guantanamo
clients, picked up in Pakistan, is designated an enemy combatant in
part because he once traveled on a bus with wounded Taliban soldiers in
Afghanistan. The prisoner denies it, saying it was only a public bus.
But then there's the prisoner's Casio watch. According to the Defense
Department files, his watch is similar to another Casio model that has
a circuit board that Al Qaeda has used for making bombs. The United
States is using the Qaeda-favored Casio wristwatch as evidence against
at least nine other detainees. But the offending model is sold in
sidewalk stands around the world and is worn by one National Journal
reporter. The primary difference between Chandler's client's watch and
the Casio in question is that the detainee's model hasn't been
manufactured for years, according to the U.S. military officer who was
his personal representative at the tribunal.
Some of the men who survived that convoy are at
Guantanamo, and clearly, they were captured on a battlefield. But if
proximity implies culpability, how do you justify the detention of so
many others in Cuba who were arrested far from any Afghanistan front?
How about the aid worker sleeping at home in Karachi, Pakistan? How
about the men arrested in Sarajevo and sent by the Americans to
Guantanamo even though they were clutching their
exoneration-from-terrorism papers issued by the judge who had reviewed
their cases? How about miscellaneous Arabs -- some fighters, some not
-- who together with other refugees passed through Afghanistan's
borders as war arrived? How about two British Muslims arrested as they
stepped off a plane in Gambia? How about a hypothetical little old lady
in Switzerland who writes checks to a charity, not knowing it's a
terrorist front, but who a government lawyer nevertheless conceded in
court could be properly termed an enemy combatant? The law of war has
come far in a century of genocides and massacres and nuclear bombs. But
has it come so far that when Al Qaeda made the entire world a
battlefield, all of the world's population fell under the law of war?
Now the AP has picked up on the story.
Lawyers: Many Gitmo Detainees Not Accused
WASHINGTON - More than half of the terror suspects
being held at Guantanamo Bay have not been accused of committing
hostile acts against the United States or its allies, two of the
detainees' lawyers said in a report released Tuesday.
Compiled from declassified Defense Department evaluations of the more
than 500 detainees at the Cuba facility, the report says just 8 percent
are listed as fighters for a terrorist group, while 30 percent are
considered members of a terrorist group and the remaining 60 percent
were just "associated with" terrorists.
According to the report, 55 percent of the detainees are informally
accused of committing a hostile act. But the descriptions of their
actions ranged from a high-ranking Taliban member who tortured and
killed Afghan natives to people who possessed rifles, used a guest
house or wore olive drab clothing.
Of course, we knew all of this before from past news reports:
Innocent Afghan Detainees At Gitmo?
How I entered the hellish world of Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo inmates say they were 'sold'
Guantanamo prisoners tell their stories in secretive tribunals
US 'may hold cleared detainees'
This is a national disgrace. Our government is detaining and torturing
innocent people without trial. There is absolutely no excuse for this.
Gitmo has done nothing to protect us from terrorism. Every single
common sense measure that could protect us from terrorism is being
ignored. Our chemical plants, ports, borders, nuclear power plants, etc. are poorly guarded
thanks to the administration's corporate ties. Meanwhile, we're
supposed to feel safe because a bunch of Afghan chicken farmers are
behind barbed wire?
Hopefully someday we will look back on Gitmo in much the same way we
look at the internment of the Japanese during WWII. A pointless, cruel
deprivation of human rights motivated by irrational fear, hatred, and