Adios, Guantanamo?

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Most of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay will be released, the facility's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Martin Lucenti, told the Financial Times.

Of the 550 that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries […]

Most of these guys weren't fighting. They were running. Even if somebody has been found to be an enemy combatant, many of them will be released because they will be of low intelligence value and low threat status. We don't have a level of evidence to feel that we can be confident to prosecute them [all]. We have guys here who have never told us anything, except to say that they want to cut off the heads of the infidels if they get a chance.

Heads-up from The Volokh Conspiracy. Previous Jacob Sullum coverage of Guantanamo can be found here, here, and here.

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  1. So do we have any figures on how many of these prisoners want to cut the heads off of infidels:

    a) moreso now since they were caught
    b) about the same as when they were caught
    c) less so since they were caught
    d) not at all since they were caught

    Just trying to gauge our effectiveness in the war on terror; Rumsfeld insists on having metrics, ya know. I’m sure we’ll have Halliburton all over those exit interviews.

  2. I was pretty cynical about Guantanamo to begin with, but WTF is this? I had assumed that even if there were some innocents in the mix — which ain’t good — the majority of these guys were actually AQ. Now that’s not even true? Whose idea was this dog and pony show?

    (P.S. As regards the prisoners who “say that they want to cut off the heads of the infidels if they get a chance,” some of them may well have be nasty characters, but lock me up in an open-air cage in Cuba for a couple years and I’ll say worse things than that.)

  3. Now that’s not even true? Whose idea was this dog and pony show?

    wasn’t it seymour hersh who pointed out that over 90% of detainees at abu ghraib, guantanamo and the like are innocent people rounded up solely through being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

    i long understood virtually all of the prisoners and the tortured to be innocent of anything — but i’m surprised nonetheless that the administration is going to let them go instead of holding them permanently or killing them. (which, i suppose, they might do anyway after “releasing” them.)

  4. I join gaius in my pleasant surprise at such a large scale release of prisoners. I expected that the vast majority of the detainees would be liquidated at some point.

  5. Most of these guys weren’t fighting. They were running.

    What about compensation for unjustly holding them? Also, what about the ones, I assume there were some, who were abused…shouldn’t they receive extra compensation? And also, testimony should be taken from them so that those in our government who were responsible for any abuse may be prosecuted and punished.

  6. Did we learn something from this?

    Somebody tell me that someone who agreed with the Bush Administration, someone who agreed that Afghani POWs shouldn’t be protected by the Geneva Conventions or someone who agreed that Afghani POWs shouldn’t be allowed the benefit of legal counsel learned something from this.

    P.S. Anyone who becomes aware of this before they vote should ask themselves, “Why hasn’t Rumsfeld’s head rolled?”

  7. What about compensation for unjustly holding them? Also, what about the ones, I assume there were some, who were abused…shouldn’t they receive extra compensation?

    as an aside, that money-for-honor thing is a western weakness of the last couple hundred years. if you offered these people money in return for being assraped, you’d have insulted and dishonored the vast majority of them a second time. it’s part of the reason they find us westerners morally abhorrent, as i understand it.

  8. I’ll take a shot at explaining why you are all surprised:

    Your worldviews are pessimistic beyond what rational observation would allow.

    It’s an impossible point to argue on an anonymous forum, but seriously, think about it.

  9. “Why hasn’t Rumsfeld’s head rolled?”

    mr schulz, this is an excellent point pertaining to november 2.

    regardless of your side of the aisle, rational heads have come to admit that not only were these people were innocent and held needlessly for years of torture — to our great discredit — but tora bora, iraq and afghanistan have been mismanaged in several aspects.

    any good CEO would have to fire this manager on the basis of incompetence, regardless of whether or not he’s a friend or a fellow ideologue. bush is rumsfeld’s CEO. and we are bush’s.

    imo, from the standpoint of management, kerry’s boys may end up being incompetent. but we *know* rummy is, and how. bush’s refusal to fire him forces the hand of those interested in accountable government to axe bush. to do anything else is, i fear, to reward incompetence out of a fear of change or ideological zealotry.

    of course, ideology is king these days in america and that atmosphere will cloud the judgement of many on that point.

  10. Your worldviews are pessimistic beyond what rational observation would allow.

    jdm, i agree — and i cultivate my cynicism.

    why? because the consequences of being too optimistic with government are FAR more damaging than being too cynical. skeptics flee and live. optimists are rationalizing all the way to the gas chamber.

    the skewness of the possible outcomes forces any responsible citizen to be biased toward skepticism. this is why i consider folks who are genuinely optimistic about their country, their church or their political party to be rather stupid.

  11. “this is why i consider folks who are genuinely optimistic about their country, their church or their political party to be rather stupid.”

    I don’t get it. Optimism in general is a sign of stupidity, because you are a pessimist? Is that part of your purposeful skewing of your worldview, or merely your belief that anyone unlike yourself is stupid?

    There is no reason to believe that gross optimism leads to more terrible consequences than gross pessimism. You’ll argue that it is, since you prefer to frame questions that way, but claiming that the Holocaust, for example, is a result of optimism or pessimism is pretty meaningless. Some could be described as undoubtedly over-optimistic, while others were overly pessimistic.

    You gloss over entirely the question of what specifically, one is optimistic about. Some things one should rationally be optimistic about, and others they should not.

    Skewing your worldview leaves you with nothing but a skewed worldview.

  12. Well, one of 3 things is happening:

    1) (Best case scenario) Some unimportant and uninformed flunkies with no real info are being sent back to their various countries. Some of them will wind up carrying a rifle for various Afghan warlords. Some of those warlords will be on our side, some will be against us, and all of them will change sides now and then, as per Afghan custom.

    Basically, we’ve released some flunkies who will only be as dangerous as their more savvy employers choose to be. And since a lot of those employers are interested only in their own enrichment rather than terrorism, the US is probably safe.

    2) Next best: Some more-or-less innocent people are finally being released. What happened to them was wrong, but now they’re being released, so at least a wrong is (sort of) being remedied.

    3) Worst case: Some very bad guys, not just flunkies but rather hard-core terrorists, are being released because the US handled them incompetently and didn’t sort the wheat from the chaff very well.

    Wouldn’t these scenarios and the associated uncertainties suggest that in the future we should have some sort of process to sort out who is or is not a threat? Hmm, maybe we could have the government submit evidence to a panel of expert arbiters who routinely examine evidence to determine whether or not somebody is a violent thug. We could even give these arbiters names like, say, “judges.”

    If these arbiters do a good job of sorting the wheat from the chaff with regard to future detainees, maybe we could even incorporate them into our system of government. We could make them a third co-equal branch.

    Just a thought.

  13. gaius, you were doing so well, and then you had to say “held needlessly for years of torture.” You seem to be claiming that everyone held at Guantanamo was tortured. Evidence? Would this be before or after they gained weight and were each given their own copies of the Koran?

    Read very carefully what the good Brigadier has to say.

    He isn’t saying these clowns, many of whom openly admit they want to behead infidels, will be set free as so many birds. He is saying they will be remanded to the caring arms of the Afghan and Iraqi governments. Frankly, I’d rather be held at Gitmo.

    He isn’t saying they are being repatriated because they are innocent. He is saying that they don’t know anything worthwhile and/or its not worth it to try to prosecute them, so we might as well throw them back. I do note that one of the folks recently released from Gitmo was shot while engaged in guerrilla activities in Afghanistan or Iraq, so don’t be surprised if some of these clowns put in an additional appearance somewhere.

    That said, there has to be a better way of screening the illegal combatants that we take into custody, to try to filter out more quickly the truly innocent. How to do this without unduly compromising military and intelligence functions is the trick, of course.

  14. You seem to be claiming that everyone held at Guantanamo was tortured.

    of course not, rc — but does everything uttered have to be strictly literal? was the earth was created in six days? 🙂 sometimes i trust you guys to be able to read what i’m saying and understand my point without declining into pointless reduction.

    Frankly, I’d rather be held at Gitmo.

    lol, but i doubt it.

    He isn’t saying they are being repatriated because they are innocent.

    no, but several other military officers who should know have said that they are, by and large, innocent. in fact, the army’s own taguba report highlighted that over 60% of the detainees at abu ghraib were non-threats and should have been, under proper protocol, released immediately. one can only assume that the army’s number is typically understated to reflect positively. the methodology of detaining folks wasn’t altered appreciably between iraq and afghanistan, it seems safe to say.

    i think we folks should come to grips that our army was rounding up odd lots of folks for all kinds of non-reasons and imprisoning them for years just to get them out of the way. there’s no reason to naively imagine that our army is morally immune somehow to the abuses of all other armies for time immemorial.

  15. RC Dean,

    While we work out a system to figure out who should and shouldn’t be protected under the Geneva Conventions, do you mind if we start treating everyone in accordance with the Geneva Conventions again?

    …just so we don’t needlessly disgrace ourselves for a while.

    According to the Schlesinger Report, Rumsfeld went back to the Geneva Conventions after he realized how badly he’d screwed up. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?

  16. Optimism in general is a sign of stupidity, because you are a pessimist?

    no, jdm, i’m talking about assymmetric distributions of risk. this is a statistical concept that has nothing to do with my viewpoint. pascal’s wager is something of the same analysis.

    optimism and pessimism w/r/t a situation each have their benefits and drawbacks. if you’re correct in your assessment of the situation, either one is undamaging. if you’re wrong, but the unexpected outcomes associated with each interpretation carry essentially the same penalty, you’ll suffer the same consequences and holding either view was equally risky (ie., a normal distribution of risk).

    that isn’t so with assymmetric risks (like government, imo). the consequences of us, as a society, being an incorrect optimist with something so powerful is *very* dangerous. the consequences of being an incorrect pessimist yields only missed opportunities.

    even if you had reason to believe that optimism would be better rewarded somehow — say 90% of the time — you would still be better served being a pessimist if the consequence of being an incorrect optimist was ten times as damaging as being an incorrect pessimist — or, worse, an unsurvivable event.

    i submit that, as a society, pessimism about our government is wholly merited on these grounds, even in the face of a string of repeated optimistic outcomes. it is mill’s black swan problem.

  17. gaius marius:
    “…this is why i consider folks who are genuinely optimistic about their country, their church or their political party to be rather stupid”

    here! here!

    not stupid, lazy. to lazy to investigate issues surrounding their own existence. I heard a good word for them “sheople” or something like that.
    ok, on second thought they are kind of stupid.

    thoreau:
    …”We could even give these arbiters names like, say, “judges.”
    If these arbiters do a good job of sorting the wheat from the chaff with regard to future detainees, maybe we could even incorporate them into our system of government. We could make them a third co-equal branch.”

    I always get a good chuckle from you. thanx!

  18. Let’s see… we basically kidnapped innocent folks from Afghanistan, held them in cages in Cuba for a couple of years and now… oops, sorry, you can go now. Where are these men going to go, and how are they expected to get their lives back?

    I don’t know if the story made the press north of the border, but one of the first detainees to be released had nothing to do with Al Quada. He was simply a Kabul cabbie carrying the wrong fare. When we turned him loose, we didn’t even pay his way home, or offer to get him a new taxi. I’ve wondered what happened to the guy… probably driving a 56 Chevy around Havana.

  19. Let’s see… we basically kidnapped innocent folks from Afghanistan, held them in cages in Cuba for a couple of years and now… oops, sorry, you can go now. Where are these men going to go, and how are they expected to get their lives back?

    I don’t know if the story made the press north of the border, but one of the first detainees to be released had nothing to do with Al Quada. He was simply a Kabul cabbie carrying the wrong fare. When we turned him loose, we didn’t even pay his way home, or offer to get him a new taxi. I’ve wondered what happened to the guy… probably driving a 56 Chevy around Havana.

  20. JDM,

    Instead of bogus psychological analyses, present a substantive argument.

    Does anyone honestly think this would have happened without the Supreme Court rulings this summer; or at least happened with the alacrity that followed those rulings?

  21. Jason Bourne,

    It’s reminiscent of the Hamdi release, isn’t it?

  22. R.C. Dean,

    Frankly, I’d rather be held at Gitmo.

    Since your knowledge, like that of the rest of us, is limited as to what happens there, this is at best an uninformed, and likely foolhardy, decision.

    He is saying that they don’t know anything worthwhile and/or its not worth it to try to prosecute them, so we might as well throw them back.

    You (typically) mischaracterize his statements; its not that they are not “worth” prosecuting in many instances, its that they lack the evidence to do so (and this is presumably even true under the lax standards provided for “enemy combatants”).

  23. I see your point, and did before, but you are missing mine. Not that I’m blaming you, it’s a fairly abstract point. (I’m not blaming myself either, for the same reason, plus I should be working…)

    My argument is with the conclusion that the pessimistic mistake is alway better to make.

    First, you can choose to classify a mistake as being either too optimistic or too pessimistic at will. (Either too much pessimism about the results of action A or too much optimism about lack of action A.)

    Secondly, there is no reason to say that the assymetry always favors the pessimistic, once you’ve labelled it.

    Your principle here is way too general. I’d say you are trying to make a principle out of a personality trait. I’m a believer in limited government, but I don’t see where pessimism/optimism enters the picture in any real way.

  24. Ken Schultz,

    Well, once the Supreme Court stated (under the Gherbi ruling) that at least habeas jurisdiction reached the prisoners at Gitmo, the government lost the entire shootin’ match. They wanted to hold these guys and try them outside the most basic liberty against executive tyranny, the habeas corpus clause. When they couldn’t do that, they appear to have decided to fold up shop and let the majority of the detainees at Gitmo go.

  25. Jason and gaius – you guys would seriously rather be held by the Iraqis or the Afghans in one of their prisons rather than at Gitmo? Well, OK.

    do you mind if we start treating everyone in accordance with the Geneva Conventions again?

    We treat everyone entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions in accordance with the Conventions. The people held at Gitmo were not lawful combatants, and were not entitled to any protections at all. Geneva protects only lawful combatants, defined roughly as properly uniformed soldiers fighting their war according to the Conventions. The Taliban and miscellaneous Saddamites did not meet this definition.

    I believe that extending Geneva protections to unlawful combatants weakens the incentives for anyone to comply with the Conventions. There is an opposite case to be made, but don’t start from the erroneous position that the Taliban and Saddamites were enttled to anything.

  26. R.C. Dean,

    Jason and gaius – you guys would seriously rather be held by the Iraqis or the Afghans in one of their prisons rather than at Gitmo?

    Did I state that? No. Unsubstantiated declarations about the views of others appear to be your forte. I simply stated that you have no way of knowing which was better. That is decidedly different from stating that I would perfer one over the other. Get your head out of your ass.

    The people held at Gitmo were not lawful combatants, and were not entitled to any protections at all.

    Wrong. Indeed, Gherbi specifically states that enemy combatants or not, once within U.S. jurisdiction they have at least the rights afforded by habeas corpus. Furthermore, even unlawful combatants are protected under the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_comp36.htm

    Geneva protects only lawful combatants, defined roughly as properly uniformed soldiers fighting their war according to the Conventions.

    Wrong again. Geneva protects far more people than lawful combatants; though it protects various classes of individuals differently.

    I hope you are not attorney, because you give erroneous legal advice here all the time that would likely land you in a malpractice suit in real life.

  27. R.C. Dean,

    And to further demonstrate your ignorance, unlawful combatants are even accorded some positions under the Geneva Conventions.

    Please see:

    Article 4. Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.

    In GCIV Article 5, even a spy or saboteur shall be “treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial”.

    Other portions of the GCIV also apply to “unlawful combatants.”

  28. There have been so many profound stupidities committed concerning Gitmo that they all start to blur together, but for those such as RC who insist that we didn’t really do anything wrong:

    If you’ve been following the stories of Abu Ghraib, you may have noted that in some cases Rumsfeld and company have been distancing themselves from the scandal by saying, “Oh, no! The tortuous interrogation techniques were only approved for use at Guantanamo Bay, NOT Iraq!”

    By the way, the fact that prisoners gain weight does not prove that you are treating them decently–it only proves that you are not starving them. I’m sure an imaginative individual could make a person suffer despite that.

  29. I believe that extending Geneva protections to unlawful combatants weakens the incentives for anyone to comply with the Conventions. There is an opposite case to be made, but don’t start from the erroneous position that the Taliban and Saddamites were enttled to anything.

    OK, one more time, here it is:

    I couldn’t care less what happens to an Al Qaeda terrorist, Baathist guerrilla, or some other evil thug.

    HOWEVER…….

    I want to make sure that the person being treated without regard to the Geneva Conventions is in fact an Al Qaeda terrorist, Baathist guerrilla, or other sort of evil thug. As opposed to, say, an innocent guy kidnapped by an Afghan warlord who wants to impress the US by handing over lots of “terrorists.” (Maybe you haven’t noticed, RC, but a lot of our “friends” in Afghanistan aren’t the sort of people that you can trust on, well, anything.)

    So, we need to make sure that the guy being paraded around by Pfc. England is in fact a Baathist guerrilla or terrorist or whatever, and not just some guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. How could we sort this out? Hmm…..

    Hey, here’s an idea! We’ll ask James Madison! I know he’s dead, but I believe he left behind some writings. Maybe he had some ideas on how to sort out genuine enemies of liberty from innocent people who got mixed up in the chaos.

    (Yes, I realize that some will point to legal issues about these people being non-citizens caught outside US territory. I realize that the law as written might or might not cover their cases. I still think it might be a pretty darn good idea to have some way of examining the facts of their cases. Even if it isn’t legally mandated, it might be nice to sort out Osama’s buddies from innocent taxi drivers. Just because the gov’t isn’t mandated to have due process for these guys doesn’t change the fact that it might be a good idea.)

  30. It’s so very tempting to step into this in an argumentative manner, but RC has some points I think time and more discovery will give better illumination to than what I’d say. There should be an accounting of what was done and also of the why’s and what was gained and such. I actually believe this will come about.

  31. Ignoring the Geneva Conventions would have allowed us to continue to hold prisoners after the end of hostilities. Now that dream is over and I only see one substantial benefit to ignoring the Geneva Conventions: the ability to torture people.

    Am I missing some other possible benefit or are you just reluctant to forego the ability to torture people?

  32. First, you can choose to classify a mistake as being either too optimistic or too pessimistic at will. (Either too much pessimism about the results of action A or too much optimism about lack of action A.)

    assuming that one understands one’s self-interest (which is not always the case, i acknowledge, especially when the one under discussion is the people) optimism and pessimism are not arbitrary. either action A will work for one or against one.

    Secondly, there is no reason to say that the assymetry always favors the pessimistic, once you’ve labelled it.

    jdm, i’m not really sure you *do* understand my point. in fact, there is reason. to be sure, i am simplifying complex situations and speaking in the abstract, but the concept holds:

    if you’re an incorrect pessimist about a situation — say one in which the government may possibly abandon liberty for tyranny — what is the worst that can happen? the government pleasantly surprises you with its moderation and temperance; perhaps you could have profited better from assuming that outcome, or have encountered a relative loss as compared to optimists. but you have survived and are free.

    if you’re an incorrect optimist, what is the worst that can happen? you have enabled the government to jail or kill you — in fact, you’ve been an unwitting accomplice in your own demise by refusing to inhibit the government from usurping your liberty. maybe you even aided and abetted them in doing it.

    events that are resolved optimistically are survivable, even if you were pessimistic about them. events that are resolved pessimistically are unsurvivable if you were optimistic. therefore, in the interest of survival, because of the skewness in the possible outcomes, one must be pessimistic.

  33. Secondly, there is no reason to say that the assymetry always favors the pessimistic, once you’ve labelled it.

    though i should note, in thoroughness, that “asymmetry *eventually* favors the pessimistic”. long periods of calm where optimism is rewarded and seemingly verified may pass. in time, many (being human) discredit pessimism as lunacy in light of recent optimistic history. people easily forget lessons at a distance in time.

    but, as popper said, no theory is verifiable. sooner or later, mill’s black swan appears — and the vast majority, exposed as having been irrational optimists, are caught in the trap.

    imo, this is what americans are experiencing today w/r/t confidence in their government. safety, prosperity, stability — there hasn’t been a black swan in a fairly long time.

  34. “if you’re an incorrect optimist, what is the worst that can happen?”

    Here’s an example pulled completely from thin air. If you refuse to trust your government in a case where it decides to declare war on another government which looks, according to some, like it is about to invade your country, are you being pessimistic about your government, or optimistic about the other government?

    Let’s say we call it the pessimistic view to not trust your government If you are right, and your government doesn’t invade, you’ve avoided a costly war. If you are wrong, you are killed by an invading army. Your pessimism has been black swanned.

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