Saturday, February 18, 2006

Guantanamo: "Evidence"

Last week, I blogged about a study [PDF] by Mark and Joshua Denbeaux of the Sefton Hall University School of Law which showed that less than half of Guantanamo detainees are even accused of committing hostile acts against the US or its allies. I've just stumbled across a similar report by the National Journal's Corine Hegland, in which she reviews the government files of 132 detainees who have filed Habeas petitions and the censored transcripts of 314 hearings before Guantanamo's Combatant Status Review Tribunals (which are supposed to rule on whether or not a detainee is really an "enemy combatant"). What she finds is absolutely shocking. While the evidence against some detainees is strong, these comprise a tiny minority of cases reviewed. As for the rest,

Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies. Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time. And much of the evidence -- even the classified evidence -- gathered by the Defense Department against these men is flimsy, second-, third-, fourth- or 12th-hand. It's based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars.

Some of the "evidence" used is known to be simply fiction. For example, that against a detainee named Mohammed al-Tumani:

Tumani's enterprising representative looked at the classified evidence against the Syrian youth and found that just one man -- the aforementioned accuser -- had placed Tumani at the terrorist training camp. And he had placed Tumani there three months before the teenager had even entered Afghanistan. The curious U.S. officer pulled the classified file of the accuser, saw that he had accused 60 men, and, suddenly skeptical, pulled the files of every detainee the accuser had placed at the one training camp. None of the men had been in Afghanistan at the time the accuser said he saw them at the camp.

The tribunal declared Tumani an enemy combatant anyway.

Some of it is simply insane. There are people deemed to be "enemy combatants" because of the type of wristwatch they wore: one "similar to" (but not the same as) a type commonly used by Al Qaeda to make bomb timers - and coincidently on sale in every marketplace across the Middle East. There are people deemed to be "enemy combatants" not just by association, but by association two or three or even more steps removed (haven't these people ever seen "Six Degrees of Separation"?) There are people deemed "enemy combatants" on the basis of false confessions, which their interrogators knew to be bullshit, but which went into the file anyway:

One man slammed his hands on the table during an especially long interrogation and yelled, "Fine, you got me; I'm a terrorist." The interrogators knew it was a sarcastic statement. But the government, sometime later, used it as evidence against him: "Detainee admitted he is a terrorist" reads his tribunal evidence. The interrogators were so outraged that they sought out the detainee's personal representative to explain it to him that the statement was not a confession.

A Yemeni, whom somebody fingered as a bin Laden bodyguard, finally said in exasperation during one long interrogation, "OK, I saw bin Laden five times: Three times on Al Jazeera and twice on Yemeni news." And now his "admission" appears in his enemy combatant's file: "Detainee admitted to knowing Osama bin Laden."

(Emphasis added).

And then there are people deemed "enemy combatants" on the basis of information tortured out of other detainees. One detainee, Farouq Ali Ahmed is being held on the basis of information provided by another, who had been

moved into an "isolation facility," where he stayed for the next 160 days, his cell continually flooded with light, his only human contact with interrogators and guards. He was questioned for 18 to 20 hours a day for 48 out of 54 straight days; he was threatened with a menacing dog; he was forced to wear a bra while thong panties were placed upon his head; he was leashed and ordered to perform dog tricks; he was stripped naked in front of women; he was taunted that his sister and mother were whores and that he was gay.


By late November 2002, an FBI agent wrote, [the detainee] was "evidencing behaviour consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices, cowering in a corner of his cell covered with a sheet for hours on end.)"

Now that's what I'd call a reliable source...

All of this happens because there are no effective standards of justice at Guantanamo. The judges in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals are not neutral, but are serving US military officers told by their President and their superiors that the people they are judging are "dangerous terrorists" who must be imprisoned to protect American lives. Detainees are presumed guilty, and must rebut the allegations against them to prove their innocence. And they must do this while being denied access to much of the evidence against them. There is no right against self-incrimination and no effective right of appeal. Hearsay evidence (evidence given by others who are not present and so cannot be cross-examined) is allowed by the government - but not by detainees. And of course they permit "evidence" gained by outright coercion, and even torture. The whole process is that of a Kafkaesque kangaroo court, whose verdicts cannot possibly be regarded as anything other than "victor's justice".

Today the UN called for Guantanamo to be closed on the grounds that the detention there was essentially arbitrary. Having seen the weakness of the "evidence" in these cases, I'd have to agree. Guantanamo delenda est: Guantanamo must be closed.


I understand that Cuba has a few political prisoners of its own; although their treatment, torture, and detention without trial dosn't concern people like yourself, does it Tussock? If we heard the same outrage from the left about torture elsewhere in the world, as opposed to only at Guantanamo bay/where Americans are involved, then I'd salute the integrity of the left. Until then...


Intolerably hot and cramped cells. Contaminated water and food. Rats, bugs and medical neglect. Is this the notorious 1850s French penal colony on Devil's Island? No, it is what some 100,000 prisoners in Cuba live every day.

This extraordinarily high number, documented by a new study, suggests that Cuba has one of the world's highest rates, if not the highest rate, of imprisonment: some 900 inmates for every 100,000 people.

This alone is reason for the international community to condemn Cuba's barbaric prison conditions and press for access and improvement. When he visits Cuba this week, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should take up this cause and lobby for the release of the political prisoners.


The numbers aren't surprising. Cuba's Stalinist police state treats all 11.3 million Cubans as prisoners in their own country -- all except regime elites. Thus leaving the island without the government's blessing is a criminal offense. Practically anything else can be considered a crime under Cuba's vaguely worded and broadly enforced penal code.

Consider: Cubans are locked up for trying to buy or sell anything privately, starting their own business or having any item that may have been purchased on the black market -- among other ''offenses.'' This year the regime targeted for arrest people who illegally owned satellite dishes or ran home-based video-rental businesses.

Those who criticize the regime are charged with ''disrespecting'' authority, ''dangerousness'' or ''acts against state security,'' which can mean anything that the repressive authorities deem criminal.

The prisoner study comes from the nongovernmental Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The commission painstakingly collected information from former inmates to calculate the capacity of Cuba's 200 prisons and labor camps. Given the reports of overcrowding, 100,000 likely is a conservative number.


Among the imprisoned, the commission counts more than 300 political prisoners. That includes 75 dissidents sentenced to terms of more than 20 years on charges ranging from sedition to espionage. Of particular concern is the inadequate medical attention for those seriously ill, among them Oscar Elías Biscet, Leonardo Miguel Bruzón, Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Martha Beatriz Roque.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/19/2006 12:44:00 PM

Adrien: we feel particular outrage over Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib because America is supposed to be better than this. They're a democracy, a civilised country with a proud heritage of freedom - not some shitty third world dictatorship run by a totalitarian regime which can only stay in power by oppressing the masses. And because if it can happen there, in a place which many have looked to as a bastion of freedom, none of us is safe.

I should also point out that "tu quoque" has never been a defence for this sort of thing. We didn't accept it at Nuremberg, and we shouldn't accept it today. And that merely being better than Cuba (or Saddam, who is the other favourite for this sort of exercise) is setting the bar awfully low.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/19/2006 01:13:00 PM

God I wish more people would post - I need a diversion from work....

Posted by Anonymous : 2/19/2006 04:12:00 PM

I don't for a minute think that the victims of shitty third world dictatorships should be ignored. We should and indeed do expect such regimes to behave like civilised countries, just like everywhere else. But I also do not think that the existence of such regimes immunises the US from criticism - or that focusing on any particulr regime (such as the US) undermines the value of that criticism in any way.

I think I've said it before last time you made this sort of argument, but if I didn't, I'll make it clear now: there are too many fucking atrocities, and I do not have time even to learn about, let alone condemn them all. Six posts a day is more than a lot of bloggers do, but it is fuck all in terms of addressing all the stuff that needs to be screamed about. So I focus on what interests me, which is usually what's in the news on a particular day, with the occasional attempt to shine a light in places people don't often look. But I'm not Amnesty International, and I don't want to focus exclusively on torture (even though sometimes it seems like I am doing so) because it would just be too goddamned depressing. Reading about this stuff is bad enough as it is, without it being relentless.

I choose to focus on America for two reasons. First, the reason suggested above: we don't expect such things from The Leader Of The Free World (tm). They're backsliders, and they know it - that's why they go to such great lengths to use legalisms to worm their way aroud the facts of what they're doing. Second, a belief that it is a better focus of my efforts: there is more ability to bring about a change in policy in a democracy than in a dictatorship. For a start, you don't have to have a revolution...

You may disagree with my editorial choices. But again, I suggest you take the obvious step and start your own blog so you can pursue your own editorial line.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/20/2006 12:26:00 AM

as for the lack of comments, it's Sunday over here. Most people aren't at work, and so they don't need to procrastinate by commenting on blogs.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/20/2006 12:28:00 AM

Where did Tussock's post go? That's the one I was responding to...

Rather than start my own blog Idiot, I may just copy the mighty Rata and take your host blog over. First I'll climb up your trunk as a vine, then I'll start spreading my foliage, blocking off your sunlight and condemning you to a slow death in the gloom of the forest understory. While you struggle in a futile, helpless attempt to free yourself, I'll be sunlit and self-sufficient, admired for my dusky red foliage, which of course sustains the birds of the forest. Such are the harsh ways of the blogosphere...

Seriously though, my dear Idiot, I have no intention of starting yet another blog when the net is riddled with the damn things. I'd rather read the ones I consider interesting (take that as a compliment of sorts), and add comments if there is a forum for this. And here we come to the crux...

Yoy run a political blog that dosn't shy away from confrontational subjects. Are you posting these because you want to provoke debate or are you doing it because you want a one-way soapbox to pontificate about the woes of the world to a choir of fellow-travellers? If you believe in free speech and have a comments board, you must surely expect to be criticised - that is the essence of political debate, is it not? If your positions and thought are powerful enough, then you should even be in a position through debate to change the views of your antagonists - which is surely what you're seeking to do, as opposed to frothing before a gathering of moonbats who already agree with you.

Personally I find some posts here persuasive and interesting; others weakly argued and smacking of standard left-wing prejudice and hypocrisy. If you want a passive audience, then delete the comments section, if not, stand your ground and fight like the muscular working class hero you are.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/20/2006 05:10:00 AM

Heh Icehawk. Glad to hear you've also tried the Great Satan out for size... Where were you in Indiana?

I agree with you regarding the USA/Cuba equivalence, but it was firstly in response to a now-removed post that was going on about Cuba. My point however, isn't that one should look to set the bar as low as possible when defending the US, but that the Left's monomanical fixation on the 'evils' of America, means that they seem to care very little about torture in other areas of the world - that, like Idiot, their moral 'outrage' seems to be a mere adjunct to a political worldview.

As someone who would like to feel at home on the 'left' but often dosn't, it saddens me that many who cry blue murder about Gitmo struggle to clear their throats to condemn atrocities like the genocide in the Sudan, China's treatment of prisoners, etc. In one sense I agree that we do "worry more about members of our own family", but also believe that we need to try to broaden our idea of 'family' to include the whole of the human race. Whilst we Kiwis are indeed closer culturally to the States than to say, North Korea, we are also a Pacific country, and enough bad shit happens around just the Pacific rim to keep any believer in human rights very busy. Imagine if their was the degree out outrage in the media about China's treatment of Falun Gongists (numbering tens of thousands) as there was about Gitmo. I'm a letter-writer to governments and the like, and at times it seems like pointless drops in a bucket...

Posted by Anonymous : 2/20/2006 01:00:00 PM

Adrian: I was wondering that myself. I remember seeing it come through my mailbox, but I certainly didn't delete it from here.

In response to your question, I post mainly because I want to vent my spleen. I regard the comments section primarily as a facility for readers to talk amongst themselves, and I certainly don't see it as imposing any obligation to respond to or even read what is posted there. And much of the time, I don't; generally I regard it as a more productive use of my time to research the next post (or one of my long-term projects) than pay attention to comments.

You may disagree with this, but bluntly, this is a volunteer effort provided on an "as is" basis, and the amount of work I put into it is entirely up to me. If you don't like it, you are always free to look for a more likeable editorial policy among the countless other blogs out there.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/20/2006 02:42:00 PM

Icehawk: there's also another good reason for focusing on the US, UK, and western nations: that allowing torture, arbitrary detention and human rights abuses there sends a message to the rest of the world that we think such things are OK, and undermines our efforts to improve conditions in places like China, Cuba etc. If we want to be able to criticise those countries, we need clean hands ourselves - if only so they can't use hypocrisy as an excuse to ignore what we are saying. The existence of Guantanamo fundamentally undermines that.

Adrian: Yes, it sometimes seems like pointless drops in the bucket. So we throw our drops where we think they will do the most good. Opinions can differ about that - but I think that I have more chance of helping by getting citizens in western countries outraged enough at their own governments to produce change and prevent backsliding by democratic means, than I have of formenting democratic revolution where it is needed.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/20/2006 02:52:00 PM

And to be fair I think Idiot is as morally repulsed by individual atrocities throughout the world, he has certainly blogged about China.

When large, powerful western democracies begin to tend toward behaviors as bad as seen in totalitarian dictatorships, then there is a specific cause for concern, especialy given that we too are a western democracy.

Posted by Muerk : 2/20/2006 02:58:00 PM

"although their treatment, torture, and detention without trial dosn't concern people like yourself, does it tussock?"

adrien has yet again posted a blatently offensive non-sequitor regards my own comment. Just to be clear, my (left socked) message pointed out that closing Guantanimo would probably not put an end to US sponsored torture, murder, and indefinate detention without charge or trial, merely shift it somewhere else.

That I chose to comment regarding the actions of this one government speaks nothing of my opinion of others, and to conclude it would be the opposite for similar actions carried out by everyone but them is ludicrous.

Posted by tussock : 2/21/2006 01:37:00 AM

Oh you poor flower Tussock...

As I recall, you were moanining about the US, va its imperialist outpost, bringing torture to poor pristine Cuba. Pity the post mysteriously disappeared...

Posted by Anonymous : 2/21/2006 02:48:00 AM

I would rather see all the verbal effort go towards saving one families home from predatory lenders and the credit card banking schemers with their 50% default rates than the military combatant who was trying to kill our kids over there.why dont we impeach the Comptroller of the Currency who lets it all happen.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/08/2007 06:01:00 AM