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 Bay. 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 later. 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 other. 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.