Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Ethics, Government, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 12:51 pm

There are times like today that I feel like a voice in the conservative wilderness, crying out with a futility akin to a lion roaring his challenge to an empty forest. Or perhaps (more aptly) the feeling of being just an innocuous blogger, a small fish in a very large sea whose views neither deserve nor will ever garner a wide audience.

So be it. “Injustice anywhere,” Martin Luther King said, “is a threat to justice everywhere.” If that be the case, then raising my voice to chastise my government, my friends, and my ideological soulmates for the strange, willful blindness to an injustice staring them in the face is more than worth the disapprobation and anger directed my way.

I am speaking of the injustice of our detainee policy, specifically as it relates to the approximately 445 men being held at the Guantanamo Detention Camp. Our government, on more than one occasion, has referred to these prisoners as “enemy combatants captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan.” This is a lie. It simply isn’t true. The Pentagon’s own investigations into the status of these men shows otherwise. The brutal fact is our government is not telling the truth about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and as a result, a monstrous injustice is being perpetrated in our name.

Are there terrorists being held at Guantanamo? Undoubtedly yes. But the question of justice that should concern us is not necessarily the guilt or innocence of a particular prisoner. What should make us hang our heads in shame and agitate for change is the process by which it is determined which detainees are a genuine threat to the United States and which were innocent bystanders caught up in the confusing aftermath of the War in Afghanistan.

Because despite what our military and government officials have been telling us for years, the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo were not “captured on the battlefield” but rather were handed over to the American authorities in Pakistan and areas of Afghanistan far removed from any of the battlefields of that war:

One thing about these detainees is very clear: Notwithstanding Rumsfeld’s description, the majority of them were not caught by American soldiers on the battlefield. They came into American custody from third parties, mostly from Pakistan, some after targeted raids there, most after a dragnet for Arabs after 9/11.

Much of the evidence against the detainees is weak. One prisoner at Guantanamo, for example, has made accusations against more than 60 of his fellow inmates; that’s more than 10 percent of Guantanamo’s entire prison population. The veracity of this prisoner’s accusations is in doubt after a Syrian prisoner, Mohammed al-Tumani, 19, who was arrested in Pakistan, flatly denied to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal that he’d attended the jihadist training camp that the tribunal record said he did.

Tumani’s denial was bolstered by his American “personal representative,” one of the U.S. military officers — not lawyers — who are tasked with helping prisoners navigate the tribunals. 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.

Any idea you might have that these “Combat Status Review” proceedings are fair, thorough, and speedy is incorrect. The released documents prove otherwise. In fact, these military boards move at a snail’s pace and, as the Pentagon’s own records show, are an evidentiary travesty:

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.

In their defense, the military denies all of these accusations while making the astonishing claim that there are no innocent men unjustly imprisoned at the facility This interview, conducted by my brother Terry on a June 27th Nightline with Admiral Harry Harris, Commander at Guantanamo shows that either Harris is being disingenuous at best or that he is truly in the dark about how many of his prisoners came to be incarcerated at his facility:

MORAN: So no man who ever came to Guantanamo Bay came there by mistake was innocent?

HARRIS: I believe that to be true.

MORAN: You call it a rigorous process. The rest of the world calls it a monkey trial, secret evidence, no resources or advocacy for those accused, no recognizable legal due process.

How do you answer that?

HARRIS: Well, I believe that most of the rest of the rest of the world probably doesn’t agree with your position. And I think a lot of people believe that what we are holding here are enemy combatants.

I think this process is very fair. Again, out of 800 or so combatants that have come through here, we’ve released over 300, or about 300 of them.

And we continue that process now. We have about 130 detainees here that we have determined — we being not me but we being the United States — we have determined about 130 of these folks we can afford to release them or return them to their countries for continued detention.

That’s 130 folks that are waiting (ph) for their countries to be ready to accept them. So I think it’s a very fair process.

And at the end of the day, what we have left are enemies of our nation. There is no expectation in international law that we do anything but detain them.

You know, it’s a recognized principle in international law that belligerents can hold enemy combatants. And we certainly have these folks that we’ve taken off the battlefield that have gone through these processes we just spoke about.

(As an aside, I have rarely been prouder of my brother professionally as he continuously challenged Harris throughout the interview).

At the moment, according to the government’s own count, there are approximately 130 men, some of them clearly innocent, still being held in legal limbo waiting to go home. One of them, Murat Kurnaz, was just released on August 24. His crimes?

Shortly before March 27, 2005, apparently through an administrative slip-up, the evidence against Kurnaz was declassified. Much of the evidence therein was exculpatory, but an unsigned, unsupported memo suggested guilt.

One allegation was that he was traveling to Pakistan with Selcuk Bilgin, who was a suspect in a bombing, possibly the 2003 Istanbul Bombings. It appears that Bilgin did not travel, having been stopped at the airport for an unpaid fine. In any event, no case was made against Bilgin.

According to a December 22, 2005 story by United Press International, a brief stay at a Tablighi Jamaat hostel lead to the decision to capture Kurnaz.

Kurnaz was caught in a legal quagmire where it is clear that because he was not vouchsafed even the minimal rights of a prisoner granted under the Geneva Convention, he was unable to overcome just the suspicion of guilt:

The United States recently responded to pressure from the German government and released detainee Murat Kurnaz from Guantanamo Bay. Although he spent four years in the U.S. prison there, Kurnaz was never charged with a crime, and there are no indications that he was involved in any terrorist-related activity. Had he been afforded his constitutional right to due process upon detention, it is highly likely that this innocent man would not have wasted four years of his life in prison.

How many more Murat Kurnaz’s are there? Does it matter to you that there may be dozens, perhaps hundreds of men in captivity who are no more a threat to the United States than my pet cat Snowball?

It does to me. And the fact that the tribunals set up to adjudicate these men’s cases was inadequate to the task of discovering the truth should outrage every one of us who cares about American justice.

Harris dismisses the various studies done in response to FOIA requests as “incomplete:”

MORAN: One more on this general legal topic. The Combat Status Review Tribunals that you’ve mentioned, they were studied by lawyers. And that study found that the military’s own records show that 55 percent of the detainees here never committed a hostile act against the U.S. or coalition forces. Only 8 percent were found to be, by the military, al Qaeda fighters. And only 5 percent were actually captured by U.S. forces, many of the rest sold into captivity.

Is that a problem?

HARRIS: Two issues on that, two points to make on that.

One, it’s not a problem. But the first point is that that study was a Seton Hall study, and that study only looked at half of the available documentation. It looked at the documentation from the detainee side and not the government side for reasons for national security or classification or whatever.

So it only looked at half of the records. And then that part of the record was also redacted for security reasons.

So the basis, the underlying premise of that study is based on less than half of the information that was obtained. And if they draw a conclusion from that, I mean, a solid, serious conclusion from that, then I believe that any reasonable person would agree that that’s a faulty conclusion.

Are they “faulty conclusions?” Lawyers for some of the detainees have described most of the evidence as “hearsay” which is admissible in these CSRT’s but would be thrown out of most any court in any free country of the world. This is important because the debate over detainee’s rights is now over not whether they will be given any of the rights you and I take for granted under the Constitution, but which rights will be granted consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the United States while living up to a minimum standard of justice that would reveal the guilt or innocence of prisoners.

This is the delicate balance that Congress is trying to strike as they seek to comply with the recent Supreme Court decision that ruled the present system unconstitutional. Very few (except the usual civil liberties absolutists) are arguing that these men should be tried like any American criminal. What Congress is looking at is some kind of modified Courts Martial proceeding that would grant detainees at least some of the protections guaranteed under the Constitution.

Progress on the bill is slow. Meanwhile, men whose captivity came about as a result of bounties offered by the military, collected by warlords and Northern Alliance commanders and whose “crimes” may entail nothing more than their being Arabs caught in the war zones await vindication:

But the largest single group at Guantanamo Bay today consists of men caught in indiscriminate sweeps for Arabs in Pakistan. Once arrested, these men passed through several captors before being given to the U.S. military. Some of the men say they were arrested after asking for help getting to their embassies; a few say the Pakistanis asked them for bribes to avoid being turned over to America.

Others assert that they were sold for bounties, a charge substantiated in 2004 when Sami Yousafzai, a Newsweek reporter then stringing for ABC’s “20/20,” visited the Pakistani village where five Kuwaiti detainees were captured. The locals remembered the men. They had arrived with a larger group of a hundred refugees a few weeks after Qaeda fighters had passed through. The villagers said they had offered the group shelter and food, but somebody in the village sold out the guests. Pretty soon, bright lights came swooping down from the skies. “Helicopters … were announcing through loud speakers: ‘Where is Arab? Where is Arab?’ And, ‘Please, you get $1,000 for one Arab,’ ” one resident told Yousafzai.

“The one thing we were never clear of was where they came from,” Scheuer said of the Guantanamo detainees. “DOD picked them up somewhere.” When National Journal told Scheuer that the largest group came from Pakistani custody, he chuckled. “Then they were probably people the Pakistanis thought were dangerous to Pakistan,” he said. “We absolutely got the wrong people.”

I realize we are at war. I realize mistakes are often made in war. I realize the necessity of being as sure as humanly possible that anyone released from Guantanamo will do the United States or its citizens no harm. I realize that some of the evidence gathered by the military is of a classified nature and cannot be released to the press or even sometimes to the prisoner and his lawyer. I realize we cannot offer these detainees all the rights guaranteed to American citizens under the Constitution.

I realize all these things. And I am not insensate to the dilemma this issue poses both legally and politically to our policymakers.

But the fact that 4 years after the Guantanamo facility was opened there still may be dozens of innocent men being held in captivity by the United States government is a singular blot on our honor and a stain on the principles we hold dear as a liberty loving free people.

You cannot be unmoved by this issue. You cannot dismiss the evidence as the rantings of leftists or of the enemies of the United States. You cannot chalk it up to MSM bias or to Democrats playing politics. The evidence of our turpitude is convincing and cannot be denied.

This issue must be resolved finally and completely. Congress must get off the mark and pass a detainees rights bill before the election.

To wait any longer only adds to our shame.


  1. Is this post a joke? Sadly, I don’t think it is. You’re making it a lot harder to win this war, Rick. Thanks for nothing

    Comment by Tom the Redhunter — 9/2/2006 @ 4:07 pm

  2. Tom,

    I supposed those who were against detaining Japanese-Americans during WWII were “making it a lot harder to win” that war too, eh? As a member of the armed forces, I fight for the values and ideals of this country which are decidedly contrary to many of our actions at Guantanamo. I think that compromising values and ideals to “win” the war will only ensure that war is lost. It’s obvious from the propaganda of our enemy that the fiasco at Guantanamo caused by us “gaming” international and domestic law is a net loss for us in this war. The Jihadi recruiting propaganda uses Guantanamo and other f*ck-ups like Abu Ghraib to beat us over the head daily and increase recruiting. We are losing the propaganda war in the Muslim world, where it’s now a given that we are racist hypocrites. Consistency in ideals and morality is critical component of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations as anyone who knows anything about said operations knows.

    Comment by Andy — 9/2/2006 @ 7:13 pm

  3. (Regular reader, not a member of your target audience.)
    Thank you for this. It’s scary and sad that unconditional support for the current, disgraceful US policy on detainees has become one of the tests for right-wingness.

    Comment by Bill Arnold — 9/2/2006 @ 7:18 pm

  4. Rick

    Excellent post on this. While it is true that the US treats its prisoners better than most countries do and it is true that the US treats its prisoners more humanely and with more rights than our enemies afford their prisoners, we do not compare ourselves to most countries or to our enemies. We expect the US to behave better than we expect our enemies to behave.

    Comment by B.Poster — 9/2/2006 @ 10:01 pm

  5. Andy

    Thank you for your service to our country in the armed forces. I think you are largely right that we are getting pummeled in the propaganda war and that screw ups like Abu Ghraib and Gitmo don’t help us. I think we need to do a better job at getting our side to the story out. In other words, we need to do a better job at countering the disinformation campaign being conducted against us by the enemy.

    In many countries the state controls the press so any inforamtion contrary to the govnernment’s position will either not be reported or it will be down played. The US certainly does not want to control the press in Iraq or other Arab contries. In a hostile environment, it will be very difficult to counter the enemy’s disinformation campaign but we will need to do a better job. When we make errors, such as Gitmo or Abu Ghraib it makes the job of the enemy easier. Since we can’t control the press in Arab countries, we will need to be as close to perfect as is humanly possible. This will make their disinformation campaigns much easier to counter.

    Comment by B.Poster — 9/2/2006 @ 10:24 pm

  6. I have mixed feeling over Gitmo. I am sure not ALL in Gitmo were caught on the battlefield but someone thought they were a danger to the US and handed em over. These guys probably should be released but now they are so pissed off they are gonna go fight against us, we are in a catch 22 position, when puttin em in and lettin em loose, I guess we could close the entire place down and just let em go on over to Iraq and join their buddies. It is a dilema.

    Comment by Drewsmom — 9/3/2006 @ 7:28 am

  7. Rick,

    I can’t speak for the silence of the entire conservative wilderness, but
    I can for myself. The problem for me has been information (and
    misinformation and propaganda) overload. Organizations like Amnesty
    International and the Red Cross should be pressing this issue, and the
    political opposition in this country could effect some positive action.
    The problem is when I hear these voices, they speak time and again
    likening Gitmo to the Soviet Gulag, or comparing our military guard at
    Gitmo to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, or lamenting the regular practice
    of torture methods (like sleep deprivation). As soon as I hear someone
    announce “Today a spokesman for Amnesty International (or Dick Durbin,
    or Carl Levin, or whoever) said that … ,” I promptly quit listening.

    I believe most Americans want to do the right thing in this regard. But rants and slogans don’t help me. Posts like this one (that attempt to
    lay out facts and suggest courses of action based on a sense of justice)
    do help me. Thank you.

    Comment by Larry — 9/3/2006 @ 9:04 am

  8. Larry:

    Those are excellent points. But I think the torture issue is entirely separate from the rights issue.

    I think there was some torture at Gitmo and there was some other things that some people don’t consider torture but the Geneva Convention does. But Gulags? Hitler? You and I both know that rhetoric was used to score political and propaganda points, not describe conditions there.

    But settling the rights issue is paramount. And that we can do in a matter of days if the Congress puts its mind to it.

    Comment by Rick Moran — 9/3/2006 @ 9:18 am

  9. You cannot be unmoved by this issue.

    Sure I can. Watch this: I don’t care. I don’t lose sleep over the fact that there are innocent men locked up at Gitmo. At least, not at the present time. All this does is give our enemies yet another club to hit us with. Do you think they honestly give a rats’ a– about violations of “human rights”? The jihadists know we do, though, so their PR men and other apologists will take every opportunity to spin this to their advantage. As if their record on
    “human rights” was exemplary. The United States could have a spotless human rights record and still the terrorist apologists would complain; and if they can’t find anything to complain about, they will simply make stuff up, as the recent series of “fauxtographs” amply demonstrates.

    You cannot dismiss the evidence as the rantings of leftists or of the enemies of the United States. You cannot chalk it up to MSM bias or to Democrats playing politics. The evidence of our turpitude is convincing and cannot be denied.

    Considering that in earlier wars, all of those men now being held would have been summarily shot on the spot as spies with no trial or legal representation, I’d say they’re lucky to be alive.

    And I’m not denying any of the evidence you have presented. I only question whether this is a good time to pursue it, and I would argue that it is not. Later on, after the jihadist threat has been successfully eliminated, will there be time for boards of inquiry and public investigations and prosecutions for malfeasance and all that.

    Too often the “human rights” stick has been a tool of corrupt third world thugs, who themselves laugh at the very concept, to whack the West. As far as I’m concerned, they can stuff it.

    Comment by OregonMuse — 9/3/2006 @ 11:34 am

  10. Well said, OregonMuse. I don’t care either. This is a detail in the war, not a pressing issue. I don’t care if it’s used against us, because some other issue will supplant it. We detained these guys for some reason at the time, and to let them go is simply dangerous. I’m sorry that the rights of some possible innocent people are being violated, but Islamic radicalism is snuffing out the rights and the lives of thousands upon thousands every day.

    Rick, you yourself have argued for more commitment to winning. If we’re not willing to besmirch our consciences a little in order to defeat a fanatical and tyrannical enemy that wishes to obliterate our culture and its heritage, then we will lose. Period.

    Comment by Chris — 9/4/2006 @ 8:12 am

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