Last week, I blogged about a study [PDF] by Mark and Joshua Denbeaux of the Sefton Hall University School of Law which showed that less than half of Guantanamo detainees are even accused of committing hostile acts against the US or its allies. I've just stumbled across a similar report by the National Journal's Corine Hegland, in which she reviews the government files of 132 detainees who have filed Habeas petitions and the censored transcripts of 314 hearings before Guantanamo's Combatant Status Review Tribunals (which are supposed to rule on whether or not a detainee is really an "enemy combatant"). What she finds is absolutely shocking. While the evidence against some detainees is strong, these comprise a tiny minority of cases reviewed. As for the rest,
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.
Some of the "evidence" used is known to be simply fiction. For example, that against a detainee named Mohammed al-Tumani:
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. The curious U.S. officer pulled the classified file of the accuser, saw that he had accused 60 men, and, suddenly skeptical, pulled the files of every detainee the accuser had placed at the one training camp. None of the men had been in Afghanistan at the time the accuser said he saw them at the camp.
The tribunal declared Tumani an enemy combatant anyway.
Some of it is simply insane. There are people deemed to be "enemy combatants" because of the type of wristwatch they wore: one "similar to" (but not the same as) a type commonly used by Al Qaeda to make bomb timers - and coincidently on sale in every marketplace across the Middle East. There are people deemed to be "enemy combatants" not just by association, but by association two or three or even more steps removed (haven't these people ever seen "Six Degrees of Separation"?) There are people deemed "enemy combatants" on the basis of false confessions, which their interrogators knew to be bullshit, but which went into the file anyway:
One man slammed his hands on the table during an especially long interrogation and yelled, "Fine, you got me; I'm a terrorist." The interrogators knew it was a sarcastic statement. But the government, sometime later, used it as evidence against him: "Detainee admitted he is a terrorist" reads his tribunal evidence. The interrogators were so outraged that they sought out the detainee's personal representative to explain it to him that the statement was not a confession.
A Yemeni, whom somebody fingered as a bin Laden bodyguard, finally said in exasperation during one long interrogation, "OK, I saw bin Laden five times: Three times on Al Jazeera and twice on Yemeni news." And now his "admission" appears in his enemy combatant's file: "Detainee admitted to knowing Osama bin Laden."
And then there are people deemed "enemy combatants" on the basis of information tortured out of other detainees. One detainee, Farouq Ali Ahmed is being held on the basis of information provided by another, who had been
moved into an "isolation facility," where he stayed for the next 160 days, his cell continually flooded with light, his only human contact with interrogators and guards. He was questioned for 18 to 20 hours a day for 48 out of 54 straight days; he was threatened with a menacing dog; he was forced to wear a bra while thong panties were placed upon his head; he was leashed and ordered to perform dog tricks; he was stripped naked in front of women; he was taunted that his sister and mother were whores and that he was gay.
By late November 2002, an FBI agent wrote, [the detainee] was "evidencing behaviour consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices, cowering in a corner of his cell covered with a sheet for hours on end.)"
Now that's what I'd call a reliable source...
All of this happens because there are no effective standards of justice at Guantanamo. The judges in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals are not neutral, but are serving US military officers told by their President and their superiors that the people they are judging are "dangerous terrorists" who must be imprisoned to protect American lives. Detainees are presumed guilty, and must rebut the allegations against them to prove their innocence. And they must do this while being denied access to much of the evidence against them. There is no right against self-incrimination and no effective right of appeal. Hearsay evidence (evidence given by others who are not present and so cannot be cross-examined) is allowed by the government - but not by detainees. And of course they permit "evidence" gained by outright coercion, and even torture. The whole process is that of a Kafkaesque kangaroo court, whose verdicts cannot possibly be regarded as anything other than "victor's justice".
Today the UN called for Guantanamo to be closed on the grounds that the detention there was essentially arbitrary. having seen the weakness of the "evidence" in these cases, I'd have to agree. Guantanamo delenda est: Guantanamo must be closed.