Monday, January 03, 2005

No evidence = indefinite detention

The Bush administration is now planning lifetime detention without trial for suspected terrorists:

Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.

The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts. The outcome of the review, which also involves the State Department, would also affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.


As part of a solution, the Defense Department, which holds 500 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, plans to ask Congress for $25 million to build a 200-bed prison to hold detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence, according to defense officials.

Note the recurrence of that key phrase: "lack of evidence". Even with the lax standards of a military tribunal - allowing hearsay and "evidence" extracted under torture - there is not enough to charge these people. All the US has is suspicion, and by any standards its not even a reasonable one. And yet they're proposing indefinite detention because they can't prove anything? Talk about "guilty until proven innocent"!

It's also important to remember how people end up in Guantanamo. A look at US detention practices in Iraq is sufficient to raise serious doubts - there, people have been detained and even tortured by the US as "suspected terrorists" because they have refused to pay informants who were trying to extort them, because their neighbours have wanted to settle scores, because US forces had the wrong house and refused to admit their mistake, because they have expressed "displeasure or ill will" towards their occupiers, or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. People have ended up in Guantanamo for similar reasons - Abassin Sayed, an innocent taxi driver who spent thirteen months in Guantanamo on the word of vindictive Afghan militiamen, is a case in point. The US cannot prove anything against these people because there is nothing to prove. And yet it regards that inability to prove anything as an irrelevant detail. Instead, prisoners are victims of circular, kafkaesque logic: they would not be imprisoned unless there was good reason; they are imprisoned, therefore good reason exists. Imprisonment justifies imprisonment. Facts, evidence, guilt or innocence are all irrelevant.

There are many hallmarks of a civilised state, but an absolute bedrock principle is that punishment requires evidence. The US's plan for indefinite detention violates this principle, and replaces the rule of law with an essentially arbitrary system of punishment. Didn't they fight a revolution about that once?

If the US believes that these prisoners are dangerous terrorists that must be imprisoned to prevent future attacks, it should present evidence of such to a competent, neutral tribunal. If it cannot do that, then it should release them. It really is that simple.


Maybe they should call the new facility "Gulag".

Posted by Hans Versluys : 1/03/2005 10:38:00 AM

How on earth can America get away with this?

Posted by Moneo : 1/03/2005 07:01:00 PM

How on earth can America get away with this?Because not enough Americans care about the rule of law or the principle of innocent until proven guilty - and as it doesn't directly impact them (note that their government is only doing this to foreigners), they have no real reason to.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/03/2005 07:17:00 PM