Civil Liberties

'The Detainees' Innocence Was Inconsequential'

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We knew that many of the "enemy combatants" imprisoned at Guantanamo—identified by the Bush administration as "the worst of the worst," "very hard cases," "the hard core," etc.—actually were innocent men, mistaken for Al Qaeda hangers-on or kidnapped and turned over to U.S. forces in exchange for bounties. But the details revealed this week by Lawrence B. Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell when Powell was secretary of state, are still infuriating:

There are several dimensions to the debate over the U.S. prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed…

The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation….

The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership [including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney] became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror…Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released….

[An] ad hoc intelligence philosophy…was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance…All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.

Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees' innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.

Wilkerson adds that "it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way—from classified information or otherwise—that any intelligence of significance was gained" through this approach. Of the nearly 800 men detained at Guantanamo over the years, he says, "two dozen or so…might well be hardcore terrorists." He castigates Cheney for his recent claims that President Obama is endangering national security by planning to close Guantanamo and either try or release most of the prisoners held there. By Wilkerson's account, Cheney has long known most of these men are nothing like "the worst of the worst," and he is continuing to cover for that lie.

More on innocent men at Guantanamo and the future of indefinite detention here, herehere, and here.

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  1. I think another factor that has to be considered here is that the idea probably took hold that if innocent people had in fact been detained, they were likely to BECOME jihadists upon their release.

    I certainly would have, in their shoes.

    No one involved would want to take responsibility for releasing a currently innocent person who, out of anger at their treatment, turned into the next Osama bin Laden. That made it safer for all concerned to keep them all in jail. The same thing would apply to domestic law enforcement, if cops and not judges and juries were making the decision about who to keep incarcerated and who to let go. That’s why it’s stupid to have the executive branch making decisions about who to keep in custody – the incentives they have are all wrong for the administration of justice.

  2. Sorry, meant to close the tag after “currently”.

  3. What we need now is a TallDave appearance, to provide an entertaining defense of the indefensible.

  4. And Obama has CHANGEd this, how?

    He hasn’t beyond semantics.

  5. Just when I think the Bush administration has hit the floor on how corrupt and morally bankrupt it could possibly be, it goes and surprises me again. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

  6. Bush is gone, but notice the silence from liberal hacks like Elemenope on how Obama is doing 99% of what bush did in anti-terrorism policy.

    Moron.

  7. I think another factor that has to be considered here is that the idea probably took hold that if innocent people had in fact been detained, they were likely to BECOME jihadists upon their release.

    Yeah, if I was put in a shitty prison and then tortured because I lived on the same street as Timothy McVeigh, I’d could see myself blowing up some government buildings.

    from liberal hacks like Elemenope

    Lol? Is lunch-time retard hour?

  8. Since I don’t feel at all open to seeing American’s up before an international tribunal, we really must get started on a proper Truth and Reconciliation process. Soon.

    Not that it is possible to bring those responsible to really justice, but we are obliged to do what we can.

    And, yes. We do have to let hose people we’ve probably turned into anti-American terrorists go free. (And the blame for their subsequent acts against us fall on them (of course) and those who abused them, but not on the one who let them go.)

  9. < / b >

  10. “Lol? Is lunch-time retard hour?”

    – Barack Obama

  11. These Hit & Run trolls, it’s like the Special Olympics or something.

  12. Yeah wheres all the PC outrage from the left over BO’s joke?

  13. Here, liberals liberals liberals…

    Come out come out wherever you are!

    Notice they’re all abandoning this blog since they can no longer defend BO.

  14. I don’t really care who is doing it, but locking up indefinitely people who we know are innocent is wrong. Period. The idea that the government can act in this manner with impunity and without accountability shows how far down the road to tyranny we’ve traveled. And Obama is showing little sign that he’s going to stop walking down that road.

  15. “The idea that the government can act in this manner with impunity and without accountability shows how far down the road to tyranny we’ve traveled.”

    As opposed to seizing contractually obligated bonuses with confiscatory socialistic taxes. No, that isn’t tyranny at all!

    You’re much more likely to be personally hurt by BO’s economic policies than by Bush’s anti-terror policies. In fact, Bush’s policies might even protect you!

    BO will just raise your taxes and put the economy into the shitter.

    When are you going to wake up? The Democrat Party and BO are taking this nation down the road of Karl Marx and Mao.

  16. I suspect there’s more to the story because of the 800 or so people ever held at Gitmo, over 550 have been released. Of the remainder, there’s about 20 or 30 men who Bush acknowledged to be non-dangerous to America, but unreleaseable because their home countries would torture them. Then there’s been a few who have been released who turned out not to be as innocent as they appeared.

    So if Bush has been willing to acknowledge the innocence of, and release, about 2/3 of the group, why would he want to hold the rest of the innocent captive?

  17. Which is more likely to happen?

    Having your property seized by a Socialist policy and being taxed to death?

    Or the NSA finding the midget porn collection on your computer (OH NOES!) and listening in to your conversations with Aunt Minnie.

    The former is very likely to happen, the latter won’t unless you’re a paranoid tinfoil hat wearing moonbat.

  18. Then there’s been a few who have been released who turned out not to be as innocent as they appeared
    ______________________________________
    My gut says they were mostly innocent. but the conditions and opersating procdures at GITMO turned them into terrosist. I know if i were held for that long and was innocent. I would not be for very long when i was released. i would now be a terrosit. and really can you blame them. we created them, and we must now live with them

  19. Or the NSA finding the midget porn collection on your computer (OH NOES!) and listening in to your conversations with Aunt Minnie.

    Can they put that on your computer? I am not into it. Unless they are lesbians.

  20. Well, keep your grain of salt handy when a former striped-pants guy from State starts hammering on the military, Bush, and Cheney. Not saying he’s wrong, I’m just saying to remember what his agenda is.

    I didn’t see Wilkerson falling on his sword or anything even though he knew about this all along, either.

    With my contempt for the functionaries at State out of the way, I will say that he is on to something – the need for much better screening much earlier in the process.

    Of course, IMO, that screening should allow for the full range of consequences for its findings, ranging from release, to imprisonment, to summary execution where warranted.

  21. @,

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other. The tyrannical actions of the current government build upon those of its predecessors. I don’t give a rat’s ass about Team Blue or Team Red.

    This country will only get out of this power dive into unlimited government when voters stop worrying about the team sports aspects of events and start speaking out when our liberties are threatened. A government that will skirt the rules and act outside of the limits of the Constitution against others will eventually get around to doing it to you.

    Don’t like what Obama and the Democratic Congress are doing? Me, either. But bitching about that without realizing that they’re just taking the tools provided by the previous administrations for different ends is a problem. It’s the abuse of power that matters, in the end, because even if you like the goals of one government, you’ll eventually hate those of another. That’s why limited government should be the end-all, be-all goal.

  22. So how many blurbs has Reason written on all the innocents killed during wars?

    It isn’t shocking or surprising that you are going to end up with innocent prisoners during war. They should be sorted, processed, and eventually released, but put them in context with the thousands of innocents killed in wars.

  23. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. The tyrannical actions of the current government build upon those of its predecessors. I don’t give a rat’s ass about Team Blue or Team Red.

    Right. In the specific case of AIG, the current fiasco of scapegoating and off-the-rails hysteria and talk of expropriation only exists because the initial bailout of AIG destroyed the concept of the “earned”.

    Had AIG failed outright, the employees in question would have been unsecured creditors, and if they wanted their bonus money they would have had to get in line with every other creditor during bankruptcy proceedings. Preventing the company’s failure puts the creditors in the driver’s seat, including the employees and executives.

    Sicne the company should have failed, in a very real sense the bonuses were not “earned”. By preventing the failure, our government provided a way for creditors to be protected against losses that they deserved. Our government’s refusal to acknowledge that it’s pointless to talk about executives taking money they don’t “deserve”, after the government itself destroyed the very concept in the first place, is galling, but somewhat predictable.

  24. It isn’t shocking or surprising that you are going to end up with innocent prisoners during war. They should be sorted, processed, and eventually released, but put them in context with the thousands of innocents killed in wars.

    That’s not the point.

    Obviously mistakes will be made. The question at hand revolves around what was done after those mistakes were realized.

    To analogize the matter to the criminal justice system, there is a difference between arresting innocent people and then releasing them immediately upon that innocence being established, and arresting innocent people and then leaving them in prison after you discover your mistake because you don’t want to suffer political embarassment or are afraid they might commit other crimes after you let them go. The former would be a system operating in good faith and the latter would not be.

  25. Among all the detainees at Guantanamo, and Dick Cheney, at least one conspired to commit actual acts of terrorism against people. I’ll let you guess which one.

    Hint: His name rhymes with “Dick Cheney.”

  26. I don’t think there’s any rational question that some of the detainees are actual terrorists and/or enemy combatants. The issue is due process. Even truncated due process is better than none whatsoever.

    Considering the economy, as awful as Obama is, and as horrific as the Democratic Congress is and has been, the Bush administration gave them all the ammunition they needed by initiating this foolish bailout scheme. Allowing some of these companies to fail in the first place would’ve been dramatically better than rewarding failure. . .which is what the government is doing. Stupid is good! We need more stupid!

  27. The problem here is one of blind nationalism. To the far right-wingers, everyone there just has to be a hard-core terrorist. How could the US ever make such a mistake?

    Until the neo-cons (and anyone else for that matter) can look objectively at his/her own country’s policies this problem won’t go away.

    To those of you griping about more government, you’ll gripe until you or someone in your family gets sick and maxes out your crappy health care plan. You’ll then come crying to the government on the verge of losing your house and filing for bankruptcy.

    And no, I’m not for big intrusive government either. But I find it amazing how the same people that don’t want government health care do want government censorship and do want government telling a woman what she can do with her own body.

  28. The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there

    Yeah, he just lost me right there. It shows just how divorced so many people are about the realities of warfare. The WWII generation would have laughed like loons at the idea that soldiers in a war zone could actually sort out covert fighters from the general population in the heat of the moment.

    Honestly, what conceivable evidence could soldier have possibly provided against people who fight by blending themselves in the civilian population. They used the quick and dirty method of relying on the claims of locals and in viewing any Arab in non-arabic land as deeply suspicious.

    Our gradually divorce from reality that started when we began to treat terrorism as a legitimate form of warfare got us to 9/11. Then we began to treat those who fight in constant violation of the Geneva Convention as legal POWs instead of shooting them. Now we have to bring civil levels of evidence onto the freaking battlefield a place where confusion and chaos reign supreme in all things.

    People think that we can extend the restraint and certainty of the civil legal system to the world of warfare. Instead, we will import the confusion, chaos and brutality of war into our day-to-day legal system. We will grow comfortable with the ambiguity inherent in convicting terrorism and that will spread to the rest of the criminal justice system.

  29. Shannon you’re not making any sense.

    If terrorism is not warfare, then it’s criminality.

    Pick a set of rules and stick with it.

  30. And it’s find to say that 4th gen warfare needs new rules. But then you can’t say that the WW2 rules apply.

    If we don’t get new rules pronto, we’re going to be bogus ourselves.

  31. I second Shannon’s comment.

    If we demand that our representatives in government apply the same or similar standards when dealing with persons captured during a guerilla war on foreign soil that they do when making an arrest in our own country, we make “take no prisoners” the least politically risky policy available to them. How is that a good incentive?

  32. This is an old argument. All I want is some form of due process. Holding known innocents for political cover is bad. We can conduct a war against terrorists without doing that, anyway.

    In traditional war, the “due process” is identifying someone as an enemy combatant, which is relatively simple. Then you hold him in accordance with accepted rules.

    In what’s going on now, we can do the same with actual combatants, but with those who are merely suspects, they need some sort of opportunity to plead their case. I’m not looking for full-blown due process rights necessarily, but we need something better than the arbitrary system that we appear to have now.

  33. If we demand that our representatives in government apply the same or similar standards when dealing with persons captured during captured during a guerilla war on foreign soil

    It’s why you have a 1:10 tooth to tail ratio.

    The soldiers do their thing, and the REMF’s do their thing.

    And the key point is that the failure of the Bush Admin wasn’t the wrong standards. It was that they made *no standards at alll*.

    This is why the ‘omg you’re closing gitmo whatcha going to do’ from the right is so hollow. They did not make ‘the tough decisions’ They begged the question for years and allowed people to be in a legal netherworld.

    (and is why yay they’re closing gitmo’ from the left is so hollow. It does no good to close gitmo if you’re just going to do the same shit at Bagram.)

    Agents of the state need rules. No rules is the very definition of tyranny.

  34. Keep Guantinamo open for the AIG criminals.

  35. If terrorism is not warfare, then it’s criminality.

    If we are going all dualistic on this, I vote for warfare.

    I missed the part of Shannon’s post where she implied it was anything else. If anything, he is arguing that pretending that terrorism is criminality will infect our criminal justice system.

  36. “To those of you griping about more government, you’ll gripe until you or someone in your family gets sick and maxes out your crappy health care plan.”

    When socialized medicine does come, we’ll be griping about the high taxes to support it and the long waiting lists.

    “I find it amazing how the same people that don’t want government health care do want government censorship and do want government telling a woman what she can do with her own body.”

    I’m opposed to all three.

  37. “I missed the part of Shannon’s post where she implied it was anything else. If anything, he is arguing that pretending that terrorism is criminality will infect our criminal justice system.”

    In a neverending war on terrorism, are we to keep these innocent people in detention forever without a fair trial? This is a different type of war from past wars that lasted only for a few years.

  38. I vote for a third way. It ain’t war, and it ain’t crime. It’s war crime.

    Wait, that’s not right.

    By the way, unless my memory is failing, Shannon is a dude.

  39. “You’re much more likely to be personally hurt by BO’s economic policies than by Bush’s anti-terror policies.”

    Tell that to the innocent detainees or does it not matter because they’re not American citizens? It’s not a case of who’s policies are the worst, Democrats or Republicans. They’re both bad in their own ways.

  40. Speaking of the war on terror, do you think the NSA reads this blog? I mean, we must use trigger terms all of the time.

  41. By the way, unless my memory is failing, Shannon is a dude.

    He is. I tried to have it both ways. That never works.

  42. In a neverending war on terrorism, are we to keep these innocent people in detention forever without a fair trial?

    No, we shouldn’t.

    Unfortunately, Obama is continuing the Bush policy of keeping some people indefinitely detained. He’s changed it at the margins, and dressed it up better, and will undoubtedly reduce the numbers held over time (as Bush did), but he’s still committed to indefinite detention.

  43. “Unfortunately, Obama is continuing the Bush policy of keeping some people indefinitely detained. He’s changed it at the margins, and dressed it up better, and will undoubtedly reduce the numbers held over time (as Bush did), but he’s still committed to indefinite detention.”

    Obama has been a big disappointment. Not that I really expected that much of a change from him on foreign policy.

  44. I vote for warfare.

    Fine, then lets follow those rules. And if this is a ‘new thing’ that doesn’t fit into previous categories, let’s make up some new rules. But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, we need some rules.

    I missed the part of Shannon’s post where she implied it was anything else.

    Our gradually divorce from reality that started when we began to treat terrorism as a legitimate form of warfare got us to 9/11

    Again I am perfectly fine with saying ‘geneva doesn’t apply’ *and* ‘US Criminal Code doesn’t apply’. But you bettter come up with *something* that does. Rounding up the usual suspects and holding them indefinitely is not a plan. (please note the ‘and’ condition. I don’t have a problem perse with “the quick and dirty method of relying on the claims of locals and in viewing any Arab in non-arabic land as deeply suspicious” – but you got to follow up with something.)

  45. As far as I’m concerned the government has forfeited its case against every single detainee. Even the confirmed terrorists. We don’t get to just decide on a whim when to apply constitutional and international human rights to people. If we fail to do so, we fail to act legitimately in trying them for a crime.

    If one of them gets released and comes back and blows up some Americans, Cheney should be to blame for refusing to respect the entire point of the criminal justice system.

  46. Fluffy,

    There is a big difference between the criminal justice system and a battlefield.

    I’m not that concerned about the 60-100 innocents in Guantanamo, I’m more concerned about the 1,000-10,000 innocents that were killed in the battlefield space. Both those numbers are wild guesses, but the ratio is large.

    I’d rather have more time, energy, and outrage spent on trying to help thousands of innocents as opposed to tens of innocents.

    The outrage seems a bit screwy when not put in context.

  47. Our gradually divorce from reality that started when we began to treat terrorism as a legitimate form of warfare got us to 9/11

    Now I see where you are coming from. Got it.

    Fine, then lets follow those rules. And if this is a ‘new thing’ that doesn’t fit into previous categories, let’s make up some new rules. But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, we need some rules.

    This, we agree on.

  48. Creating Guantanamo was a horrible idea. I hope the new leadership will restore habeas corpus. I fear that Obama might just find a new loophole for detaining people without a trial indefinitely. After all, if the Guantanamo prisoners were sent to mental health facilities for “cures” instead of Guantanamo for “questioning”, it would have been well within established legal norms.

  49. Interesting point JB, although I think there is an assumption that the soldier’s life is in immediate risk on the battle field, but that the risk is less if someone is captured. I can’t comment on the rules of engagement that we use, because I haven’t read up on them. I’ll just say that we should minimize the loss of innocent life as much as possible.

    Now, if you want to start comparing numbers of deaths, we should also look at the War on Drugs. The estimates I’ve read say that it kills 2,000 Americans per year. It also has killed 2,000 Mexicans annually in the past, and that number is rising. I can’t find an estimate of the global deaths in the War on Drugs, but I could make a back of the envelope calculation. Mexico and America combined make up about 1/16 of the global population. If their drug war deaths are representative of the global rate (a big if, but like I said, this is a rough estimate) then the global annual deaths from the war on drugs would be 16*4,000 = 64,000. This swaps the tallies for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. I want peace with stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, but based on the death tolls, ending the War on Drugs is a more urgent priority for me.

  50. There are fewer innocent people in Gitmo than if Obama had been running the war in Afghanistan

  51. Pro Libertate | March 20, 2009, 3:26pm | #

    By the way, unless my memory is failing, Shannon is a dude

    I think you mean “male”

    “Dude” has implications of, “would not be a bad person to share a beer with”

    …which i am not sure was intended or the case

  52. i would now be a terrosit. and really can you blame them. we created them, and we must now live with them

    So why are not all of those innocent people who were wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit becoming terrorists?

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