Sunday, June 15, 2008


This may be old news to some, but if you haven't heard the 'Habeas Schmabeas' episode of This American Life, I highly recommend it. It describes how innocent people were turned over to U.S. authorities as alleged "Al Qaeda agents" in exchange for bounty money. They were transported to Guantanamo, tortured, eventually found to be innocent, and sometimes still not released nonetheless. From the transcript [pdf]:
HITT: As best as we can tell, Badr Zaman Badr and his brother were imprisoned in Guantanamo for three years for telling a joke. Actually, for telling two jokes. They ran a satire magazine in Pakistan that poked fun at corrupt clerics. Sort of the Pashtu edition of “The Onion.” [...] So after hearing the punch line explained 150 times, we finally got the joke, and sent Badr and his brother home. It had been three years since the Pakistani army surrounded their house in Peshawar, came into their living room which is lined with wall-to-wall bookcases, and arrested them. That’s Badr’s version of why we jailed him; here’s President Bush’s:

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: These are people that got scooped off a battlefield, attempting to kill U.S. troops. And, uh, I want to make sure before they’re released that they don’t come back to kill again.

Is Guantanamo a campful of terrorists, or a campful of mistakes? In a new study by Seton Hall’s law school, researchers simply went to the trouble of reading the 517 Guantanamo case files released by the Pentagon. Here’s what they found:

Only 5% of our detainees at Guantanamo were “scooped up” by American troops, on the battlefield or anywhere else. Five percent. The rest? We never saw them fighting.

And here’s something else: Only 8% of the detainees in Guantanamo are classified by the Pentagon as Al Qaeda fighters. In fact, Michael Donleavy, head of interrogations at Guantanamo, complained in 2002 that he was receiving too many “Mickey Mouse” prisoners.

In 2004, the New York Times did a huge investigation, interviewing dozens of high level military intelligence and law enforcement officials in the US, Europe and the Middle East. There was a surprising consensus: that out of nearly 600 men at Guantanamo, the number who could give us useful information about Al Qaeda was “only a relative handful.”

On the innocent detainees:
HITT: The government says that they would release Adel and the other Uighurs, if only it could find another country to send them to. I have an idea. Adel could go 90 miles north to Miami where’s there’s an entire city of anti-Communists. Or he could be sent to one of the largest Uighur ex-pat communities: in Washington D.C. So, why aren’t we going to be seeing Adel anytime soon? Here’s Willett [their lawyer]:

WILLETT: I’ll tell you what I think the answer is, although no one from the government would admit this. I think the answer is that if anybody actually met these guys, actually looked at them, and took their pictures and, you know, had them on TV shows or the radio, they’d be shocked. Because they’ve been told for four years that the people at Guantanamo are terrorists, that they’re the worst of the worst. And you take a look at Adel, you’re gonna suddenly realize you’ve been lied to for a long time. He struck me when I first met him like the kind of kid your college age kid would bring home – his roommate, his buddy from college, home for the weekend. People who meet Adel for the first time, they walk out of the meeting and, and, their jaws are a little unsprung. And they don’t say much, because it’s hitting them like a ton of bricks. You know, “This guy’s in Guantanamo?”

HITT: If Willett’s right, this gets to the heart of habeas. The whole point is that the king shouldn’t have the right to just detain somebody because it would be an embarrassment to have the guy free. The Pentagon has an acronym for people like the Uighurs. It’s pronounced “N-LEC”. It means No Longer Enemy Combatant. But, as Willett notes, it should be Never Was Enemy Combatant.

Thank goodness for the Supreme Court.

1 comment:

  1. I heard this TAL story on the radio, and it made me sick. If I became president, I would immediately press war crimes charges against the people who are responsible for this.

    Did anyone watch the McLaughlin Group last weekend? Anyone else notice that all the pundits talked about Guantanamo detainees as if they were terrorists? No one suggested they were innocent until proven guilty. Disgraceful.


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