'Where's the Proof?'


The New York Times describes how the "combatant status review tribunals" for prisoners at Guantanamo work: Detainees get a chance to explain themselves to a panel of three officers. But they do not get legal representation or an opportunity to see the evidence against them. A Yemeni brought before a tribunal on Saturday denied any connection to Al Qaeda; told the panel "a person is innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around"; said the hearing was "like a game"; and demanded to know, "Where's the proof?" The tribunal's president informed him, "We're not here to debate these points." A Muslim from China's Xinjiang Province likewise insisted he had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, saying, "I cannot bring any evidence against the classified information I cannot see."

For all I know, these guys are guilty as sin, but it's embarassing that these hearings are the Bush administration's idea of due process, grudgingly permitted after the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees could not be held indefinitely without an opportunity to contest their classification as enemy combatants. The remarkable thing is that one detainee (out of 104 on whom the Pentagon has passed final judgment so far) actually was released. After holding him for a year or two or three (the Pentagon didn't say exactly how long), the government said, in effect, "Whoops."

It's possible that all the remaining detainees are in fact dangerous terrorists, but it doesn't look that way. After confirming that it was perfectly justified in locking them up, the Pentagon is expected to release the vast majority, just as it has released some 150 without the formality of a hearing.