'You Got the Wrong Result. Do It Again.'


In response to criticism of the Defense Department's Combatant Status Review Tribunals by Stephen Abraham, a lawyer who was involved in the process as a reserve Army intelligence officer, "Pentagon officials say his account indicates that he misunderstood the purpose of the hearings," The New York Times reports. Evidently the purpose was not to arrive at the truth but to confirm the Pentagon's classification of detainees as enemy combatants. Abraham, a self-described conservative Republican, says he was troubled by the vague, unsubstantiated charges that often sufficed to keep men locked up at Guantanamo Bay. "Nobody stood up and said the emperor's wearing no clothes," he tells the Times. "The prevailing attitude was, 'If they're in Guantánamo, they're there for a reason.'" Abraham says he's not allowed to discuss case details, but the Times digs up a few examples of less-than-thorough inquiries from transcripts and federal court records:

In a hearing on Oct. 26, 2004, a transcript shows, one detainee was told that another had identified him as having attended a terrorism training camp.

The detainee asked that his accuser be brought to testify. "We don't know his name," the senior officer on the hearing panel said.

At another hearing, later reviewed by a federal judge, a Turkish detainee, Murat Kurnaz, was said to have been associated with an Islamic missionary group. He had also traveled with a man who had become a suicide bomber.

"It would appear," Judge Joyce Hens Green wrote in 2005, "that the government is indefinitely holding the detainee—possibly for life—solely because of his contacts with individuals or organizations tied to terrorism and not because of any terrorist activities that the detainee aided, abetted or undertook himself."

In a third hearing, an Afghan detainee said he had indeed been a jihadist—during the 1980s war against the Soviet Union, when a lot of Afghans were jihadists. Was that what the accusation against him meant, he asked, or was it referring to later, during the American war?

"We don't know what that time frame was, either," the tribunal's lead officer replied.

Abraham's main job was to oversee the database of evidence against detainees. The one tribunal in which he served as a panelist voted 3 to 0 against classifying a Libyan captured in Afghanistan as an enemy combatant, a decision that was reversed by another tribunal, also by a unanimous vote. "Anything that resulted in a 'not enemy combatant' would just send ripples through the entire process," Abraham says. "The interpretation is, 'You got the wrong result. Do it again.'"