Yet another Guantanamo atrocity

Zach Davis

I’m a firm believer in the old
saying – attributed to many people
– that it’s better to let 10 criminals
go free than it is to imprison
one innocent person. Whenever it
comes up in conversations with
my conservative friends, I like saying
this and watching steam come
out of their ears.
I am distressed that America
is increasingly devaluing civil liberties,
though I understand this
is a fine American wartime tradition
embraced by, among others,
Abe Lincoln. Nevertheless, all the
strong-arm national security arguments
pale the minute I imagine
myself as one of those unjustly
imprisoned in, say, Guantanamo
In fact, let’s try a little
thought experiment. Imagine
you’re a Yemeni imprisoned in
the American detention facility at
Guantanamo Bay.
How did you get there?
According to a report by Corine
Hegland, you were most likely
turned over to American forces by
an Afghan warlord for a bounty.
Maybe you got picked up from
a battlefield after being hit by a
bomb or taking a bullet – that’s
taking up arms against America.
Maybe you donated money to
an orphanage with some obscure
tie to al Qaeda – that’s abetting
the enemy. One Yemeni in
Guantanamo Bay was accused of
being Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.
His file read: “Detainee
admitted to knowing Osama Bin
Laden.” What he actually admitted
to: Seeing bin Laden five times on
the news.
The next step: You appear
before a Combatant Status Review
Tribunal. These kangaroo courts
will decide if you are an enemy
combatant or not. There are a
few catches: You likely don’t have
a lawyer representing you, you
aren’t allowed to present your
own witnesses or cross-examine
witnesses testifying against you,
and you’re not allowed to see any
classified evidence against you,
though the judges get to see it.
And, if you’re declared an
enemy combatant, good luck.
The Military Commissions Act of
2006 prohibited enemy combatants
from petitioning for a writ of
habeas corpus. The right of habeas
corpus is the right to contest –
in a federal court – an unjust
imprisonment. It’s one of the most
important safeguards of civil liberty,
and Congress snatched it
from “enemy combatants” with the
stroke of a pen.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court
overruled Congress on the matter
of habeas corpus, but the Military
Commissions Act had quashed all
habeas petitions two years before,
so if you were lucky enough to
have a family member or friend
submit one for you, they’d need
to start the long, tedious process
over again.
And while you’re sitting in
Guantanamo praying that a court
will grant your petition, you’re not
exactly twiddling your thumbs –
your captors are twiddling their
thumbscrews. A 2008 report in
the International Herald Tribune
revealed that U.S. interrogators
were taught with a chart copied
directly from an Air Force study of
Chinese communist torture techniques.
Released Guantanamo Bay
detainees have reported ongoing
abuse, including blinding by
pepper spray; beatings; torture
with cigarettes, broken glass and
barbed wire; sexual degradation;
forced drugging; and religious persecution.
A young Army specialist
named Sean Baker, who was stationed
at Guantanamo, was asked
to dress as a prisoner to assist
with a training exercise on how to
deal with uncooperative detainees.
The team sent to deal with Baker,
unaware he was an American soldier,
beat him mercilessly, only
stopping when they tore his prison
jumpsuit and saw his uniform
underneath. He was discharged
from the Army when he started
having major seizures indicative of
traumatic brain injury two weeks
FBI agents who made observations
of Guantanamo Bay reported
detainees had been shackled in
uncomfortable positions for 18-24
hours and left to urinate and defecate
on themselves. Detainees
were also exposed to extreme temperatures,
gagged with duct tape
and subjected to loud music and
flashing floodlights for more than
20 hours in small rooms.
The International Red Cross
inspected Guantanamo Bay in
2004, and added to the FBI’s list
humiliation, solitary confinement,
beatings and the undermining of
the patient-doctor relationship –
doctors would report to interrogators
about detainees’ weaknesses
and phobias.
So, say you survive being held
without charge for years and subjected
to torture at the whim of
your captors. Then, earlier this year,
thanks to an interagency review
led by the Justice Department, you
and 29 of your fellow countrymen
are cleared for release and repatriation.
Hallelujah! Finally! Right?
Wrong. Because the Christmas
Day underwear bomber was
radicalized in Yemen, President
Obama decided not to let any of
the cleared detainees go home.
They’re staying in Guantanamo –
or else being transferred to maximum
security prisons stateside
– just on the off chance they’ll go
home and be terrorists too.
Let me repeat – these 30
Yemeni gentlemen were cleared to
go home until someone who had
spent a few years in their country
tried to blow up a plane. There is
nothing to suggest they will go be
terrorists other than the fact that
their mailing address is in Yemen.
In this case, President Obama
is not accidentally imprisoning
innocent people out of zeal – he
is purposefully imprisoning people
he knows to be innocent against
the chance they might one day
turn into terrorists. This is just the
next in the long line of proofs that
Guantanamo Bay is a blight on the
record of humanity.
And the worst part? The whole
counterargument against “better
10 guilty men go free than one
innocent is falsely imprisoned”
is that we inflict more harm on
society by letting criminals act
unhindered than we do in locking
up the occasional innocent. But in
the case of America’s continuing
conflict with jihadists, locking up
people is useless.
We’re fighting an ideology, not
a state – anyone can pick up
a bomb and become a soldier,
even intelligent college students
in England like the Christmas Day
underwear bomber. We can’t and
shouldn’t lock up every potential
terrorist – otherwise we’d all be in
Guantanamo water-boarding each
The real solution here is to
improve our intelligence services.
We had enough data to prevent the
underwear bomber and the 9/11
attacks – counter-terrorist experts
just weren’t able to “connect the
dots” in time. As soon as we’re
able to do that, the last, weak support
for places like Guantanamo
will go up in smoke.