Monday, April 6, 2009

Getting the Facts on Guantanamo Detainees

According to a Rasmussen Reports poll released on April 3, 2009, 75 percent of voters say that safety is more important than fairness in determining what countries the US government sends freed Guantanamo inmates.  While some element of N.I.M.B.Y. thinking is likely at work, this figure reflects misinformation about detainees at Guantanamo and the high degree of indiscriminate fear drummed up by the government.  Such fear has led to public acceptance for a wide range of domestic intelligence policies that undermine civil liberties.

In the poll, 75 percent say that Guantanamo inmates should not be released in this country.  President Obama's intelligence director, Dennis Blair, stated last week that some inmates may be released into the United States.  Based upon the government's own figures about those held at Guantanamo, safety will not be jeopardized, unless conditions of confinement and torture have made inmates more dangerous than when they entered.

It seems like an opportune time to recollect 2007's Seton Hall Report, which found that 92 percent of the people at Guanatanamo were not al Qaeda fighters.  According to Seton Hall's analysis of government data, Guantanamo does not contain the "worst of the worst."  Military tribunals have found that fifty-five percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the U.S. or its coalition allies.  Only 8 percent of the detainees were characterized by Uncle Sam as al Qaeda fighters.  Of the remaining detainees, 40 percent have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18 percent have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.  In addition, only 5 percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces.

Based on Department of Defense data, the 11 detainees who swore an oath to Osama Bin Laden are only a tiny fraction of the total number of detainees at Guanatanamo.   Of the Taliban detainees, none seem to be people responsible for actually running the country.  Many were involved with the Taliban unwillingly as conscripts or otherwise.  Hundreds of detainees pose no determined threat to the United States, but that did not prevent us from confining people 23 hours a day, subjecting them to temperature extremes and sleep deprivation for seven years.  Those who have fought against the United States or plotted terrorism should be tried in federal court, like those who bombed the WTC in 1993.

As with too many facets of America's counter-terrorism policies, hyperbole, fear, and fiction drive public acceptance.  The Obama administration would be well-advised to give the people all the facts about who is being held at Guantanamo, where they came from, and how long they've been there, in keeping with his pledge for greater transparency.  Only with such facts will public perceptions change.

"Rubin Carter was falsely tried.
The crime was murder "one," guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land

Where justice is a game.

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell.
That's the story of the Hurricane,
But it won't be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he's done.
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world."

- Bob Dylan and  Jacques Levy "Hurricane"  

(though, to be sure, Hurricane Carter at least got a trial)