A developing story today highlights the difficulties that President Barack Obama faces with his order to close the Guantanamo Bay jail for suspected terrorists: What to do with the people who are there now?
The New York Times reports that a released "terror detainee" is now a commander of al-Qaida in Yemen. Said an Associated Press report:
Al-Shihri was released by the U.S. in 2007 to the Saudi government for rehabilitation. But this week a publication posted on a militant-leaning Web site said he is now the top deputy in "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula," a Yemeni offshoot of the terror group headed by Osama bin Laden. The group has been implicated in several attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital Sana.
The story raises a couple of immediate questions:
Unclassified Pentagon documents on his case listed plenty of reasons -- and evidence -- for keeping him in custody.... somewhere. But the reasons listed for his release presumed he wasn't lying. He was.
There's a little something for both sides of the Guantanamo Bay issue, a casual read of blogs and Web sites reveals this afternoon. On the one hand, some Republicans point to Al-Shihri's renewed terrorism career as a reason why Guantanamo Bay should stay open. Some Democrats point out that incompetence led to a terror leader "returning to the fight."
An aside: Do you suppose anyone in Republican circles clipped the front page of Friday's Star Tribune -- the one with the misleading headline -- to be used in an ad for the 2012 presidential campaign?
I think (1) We (USA) have long-standing weird relationship issues with the House of Saud that need to be resolved and (2) the Strib should be called on the carpet ( no pun intended ) for the headline.
For all the money we have spent detaining these guys, couldn't we have let go of the ones we had no real evidence on but then tracked them very closely? I'm not sure if that's possible. Does anyone know if it might be? If they went back to al-Qaida we might then have actual evidence.
I also wonder about the detainees still in Guantanamo. I have heard interviews with some of their lawyers. It sounds like some may now be mentally ill, probably due to the torture. What can we do with them?
Which is worse -- releasing a guilty man in error, or keeping an innocent man in jail out of fear?
Guilt and innocence are legal concepts that do not apply to war. In WWII, we kept million of Germans in prisoner-of-war camps without trial or charge.
How is this any different?
Where is the greater fear... to fear those whom we have incarcerated more than those who initiated the torture or those who dutifully or otherwise performed the torture; or those who watched on the sidelines and did or could do nothing?
It is the loss of power, the inability to stop the torture; that is part of our history forever, even as we attempt to end also, hopefully, all the black sites beyond the Cuba torture site...
But it won't end there:
Soon will follow I suppose, another sad irony, if and when Gitmo closes...it will be but a hop and a skip away; a prime, new tourist spot which each taxpayer can feel they still own a part of it... and where soon, the bored tourist once again can find a new place to bask in the sun and absorb our own past but recent history at the same time. Can't get better than that, eh ?..."tickets please; the line forms on the right and there are postcards and souveniers in the trinket shop as you leave...have a happy day folks..."
The nation wonders where do we put "them"...put whom I do wonder?
Greg - In WWII there were armies in uniform and sailors on ships. The enemy was easy to see. It was easy to figure out when it was over. Where is the enemy now? Who is the enemy now? How do we know the people we have are enemies, since they weren't wearing uniforms like the Nazis? How do we know when it is over? This isn't as cut and dried as a game of Risk.
Alison, when the allies caught German combatants out of uniform, they were frequently court-martialed and shot. (6 Nazi spies were executed by the FBI in 1942 after having landed by submarine on Long Island).
They were not brought into the civilian justice system.
This was true in the U.S. civil war also.
This Supreme Court decision on the executing of unlawful combatants directly answers your questions.
Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1 (1942), is a Supreme Court of the United States case that upheld the jurisdiction of a United States military tribunal over the trial of several Operation Pastorius German saboteurs in the United States. Quirin has been cited as a precedent for the trial by military commission of any unlawful combatant against the United States.
It was argued July 29 and July 30, 1942 and decided July 31, 1942 with an extended opinion filed October 29, 1942.
This decision states:
“ …the law of war draws a distinction between the armed forces and the peaceful populations of belligerent nations and also between those who are lawful and unlawful combatants. Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. The spy who secretly and without uniform passes the military lines of a belligerent in time of war, seeking to gather military information and communicate it to the enemy, or an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property, are familiar examples of belligerents who are generally deemed not to be entitled to the status of prisoners of war, but to be offenders against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals.
But Greg, in your original post, you compared the detainees to Germans in POW camps in WWII. You asked 'How is this any different?' You now seem to be answering your own question, and to some degree, arguing with yourself.
It seems to me that the Bush administration was not really following any set of rules in its entirety and mostly making it up as they went along. This resulted in their painting themselves into a corner. The only way out of the room was to wait until the paint dried on their presidency.
I said, guilt and innocence are legal concepts that do not apply to war and went on to cite to two distinct instances: one of uniformed soldiers and the other of unlawful combatants,
I fail to see the source of your confusion.
Just so you do not get confused again, Alison, during wartime, uniformed soldiers are placed imprisoned without charge, counsel or trial. They are held until the war is over. The reason for incarceration is the assumption that they will resume hostile action if released.
Unlawful combatants can be treated like lawful combatants or after a military tribunal can be executed.
The Bush Administration has not executed any unlawful combatants.
So rescue me from my confusion again, when will this 'war' be over. How will we know it is over? I'm assuming the distinction is between lawful and unlawful applies to an actual war with armies and battlefields.
Also, maybe I'm confused and uninformed about this, but didn't it take a number of years to even charge many of the detainees? "...but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful." In order for this to happen in any reasonable manner the trials need to be seen as fair and legitimate, not shams, as many lawyers have stated they are.
And since I'm so confused, please make sure to enlighten me on how this system will sort out dangerous, unlawful combatants from farmers who, at some point in the past, had a disagreement with a thug who detained him and turned him over to the US for some quick cash.
The war will be over when Al Qaida, the people who declared the war, say it is over.
As for sorting out whether someone who claims to be just a farmer, is only a farmer, that is the job of military tribunals.
U.S. tribunals are more just and legitimate than any other form of law in the world. God help you if you are even charged for felony in some place like Japan. As for lawyers, it is their job to complain about injustice. Is is wha they are paid to do.
I have heard from few who think the Bush military tribunal system was even remotely fair. It took years for many detainees to find out what they were charged with and what (if there even was any) evidence was used as a basis for the charges.
Our goal - in this nation which claims to have the model system of justice, democracy, and rule of law - should not be to be better than the most despicable, unjust organizations in the world. We need to set the bar for justice. This entails holding evil people accountable for their misdeeds AND it entails swiftly determining who the innocents are and setting them free. It entails using techniques that satisfy the highest moral and ethical standards, not re-writing laws to justify torture and detainment of the innocent. This country was founded on lofty principles which make it a challenge to achieve justice. It is our duty to rise to meet the challenge of justice, not weasel our way around it!
If only, alison, people like you had more sympathy for the victims of terror than terrorist, there would be fewer of both.
Our system is the most just in the world but your politics will never allow you to admit it.
It's not the terrorists I have sympathy for, it is the victims of terror. I have sympathy for the American victims of the terrorists that attacked our nation. However, I also have sympathy for the victims of the American terrorists. Innocent people taken from their families against their will, tortured and detained on the other side of the planet wthout charge for half a decade are also truly victims of terror.
The victimiztion of the innocents of other nations will not sooth the pain felt in this nation. By lowering our moral standards to those of the evil people who executed thousands of our citizens, we become the heinous infidels they claim us to be. Our misguided, vengeful actions carried out on those who did no harm to us become the recruiting posters for future terrorists. Greg, if people like you truly wanted to protect us, you would come up with constructive ways to fight terrorism before it starts, rather than aide in its recruitment campaign.
We have executed this war with moral standards higher than an other nation in history, including ourselves.
War is a place where civilian justice will never apply, yet in this war, we have gone further toward that than any nation before us.
Oddly, as the U.S. raises its standards, the people who oppose its foreign policies continue to lower their morals and standards...but then this is the way things have always been.
In the 1930's, the anti-war left embraced Hitler until the day that he invaded Russia, then Stalin instructed them to (instantly) reverse course.
After WWII, the left opposed western colonialism but embraced the Soviet colonialism of Eastern Europe. They massed the largest protests in history against the U.S. action in Vietnam but were utterly silent about the Soviet invasion of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan, nor the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
Now we have an anti-war movement clamoring about the war on terror, led by A.N.S.W.E.R. a front group for the people who backed snipers picking off school kids in Sarajevo.
Maybe the left, for once, should place moral standards before Orwellian rhetoric.
Although I tend to agree with Alison, I'm sure the truth is somewhere in between you two.
Putting aside the question of whether detaining people indefinitely is a good idea in principle, I've heard several interviews where military prosecutors say that the process at Guantanamo is flawed and should be stopped.
I am applaud prosecutors who want to get every detial precise, I think we all want to enjoy unlimited time and budget to do our jobs, but I fail understand why a terrorist should be given what black kid accused of armed robbery is not.
To suggest the military process is "flawed" is to ignore the universal history of "try them at 4pm and shoot them at 7pm".
I applaud prosecutors who want to get every detail precise, I think we all would enjoy unlimited time and budget to do our jobs, but I fail understand why a terrorist deserves what black kid accused of armed robbery does not.
To suggest the military process is "flawed" is to ignore the universal history of "try them at 4pm and shoot them at 7pm".
"...I fail understand why a terrorist deserves what black kid accused of armed robbery does not."
First of all, a black kid accused of armed robbery DOES deserve a fair trial and competent representation. The fact that many don't is a separate problem and doesn’t mean that the detainees in Guantanamo don’t also (although maybe this isn’t what you are alluding to, I’m not sure).
Second, maybe terrorists don’t deserve a fair trial. But only a fair trial can determine who is a terrorist and who isn’t.
Like most differences between conservative and liberal thinking, I think this debate is a matter of perspective. You think it is more important that the guilty are punished. I think it is more important that the innocent are not.
It is one thing to say a black kid deserves a fair trial; it is another to focus on what is fair for terrorists and not focus on what is fair for Americans.
This is the way the left has always worked.
They ignored torture in Abu Gharib until it became politically useful to pay attention to it. Yet while the media was having a feeding frenzy over Abu Gharib, no one bothered to worry about that same black kid who was been raped daily ten miles down the road.
No terrorist deserves the standards of a U.S. criminal trial. They are not U.S. citizens and participated in warfare, which is not in and of itself "criminal"
It is war.
As for what is fair or unfair, nothing the United States does will be construed as fair. That is a given.
You keep saying "terrorist." I think it is pretty clear at this point that there are people detained at Guantanamo that aren't terrorists. That is my issue. I think it is worth running the risk of letting out a few actual terrorists in order to be as sure as we can that the people that don't deserve to be there are released.
No matter who they are, I think they deserve the standards of a U.S. criminal trial. They may not be entitled to them under US law, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve them. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly.
I will conceide that there will always be people, even in this country, that think we are acting unfairly. How does that change our obligation to be fair? Why should I try to be a good person? No matter what I do there will always be someone who will think I’m a bad pearson.
Excuse me but it is utterly insane to suggest we should apply US Criminal Standards to prisoners of war. Should every German family who had a father or uncle held in the United States sue because they were held without charge?
(I am sure there are several million Trial lawyers who would love that)
But this is unprecedented in world history.
Typically, anyone suspected of being a combatant who is not in uniform is shot.
But beyond that Brian, both you and Alison are assume a hard anti-American line here. You are assuming that military tribunals are not fair, or in the word of Alison are a "sham".
That is utterly disgusting.
There is always a limit on justice, both at home and at Gitmo, but at least at Gitmo, the detainees ARE getting more justice than they deserve or most poor Americans are afforded.
I can understand why military prosecutors and defense attorneys want more resources and more time. We all want more resources and more time to do our jobs, but that does not make our work, "a sham".
It makes it less than perfect.
Just because my view is different than yours Greg, doesn't make it anti-american.
If you had acknowledged that America offers more justice to unlawful combatants than any other nation, at any time in history (including itself), I would not think your views anti-American, but you have suggested that there are people in Gitmo who do not deserve to be there.
That is an extremely harsh statement. Upon what information is it based? Claims by defense attorneys?
Isn't it the job of a defense attorney to assert the innocence of their client?
From what I have heard and read, the people currently in Gitmo are the worst of the worst....not innocent farmers wrongly accused, as Alison propagandizes.
I'm sorry Greg, I don't mean to blow you off, but I don't have much time to look for sources today.
Here is an episode of This American Life that first go me thinking about these issues. I know it isn't exactly a hard hitting news program, but it does site sources and I've heard similar reports many times since. Here is one of the sources they site (which, granted, is from a group of defense attorneys, so must be taken with a grain of salt. I take it more seriously since it is a survey of many detainees and not specifically the ones defended by the lawyers in question. It is also compiled from government documents). I have heard interviews with prosecutors who say similar things. I'm sorry I can't do better right now.