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June 01, 2005

What To Do About Gitmo?

What a mess.

For months I've watched the growing furor over allegations of detainee abuse, Koran desecration, and yes, even murder by various US personnel with increasing disquiet. Should I venture an opinion?

Oooh...I'd hate to end up in one of the Bu$hReich's mass graves. On the other hand, despite their constant insinuations Mo Dowd and Bob Herbert seem awfully mouthy, yet neither of them has been shipped off to an airless cell at Gitmo. I guess it pays to have friends at the NY Times.

Imagine my horror upon opening that venerable publication to learn that over 100 detainees have died in US custody so far:

Shut it down. Just shut it down.

I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantánamo Bay. Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down.

If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantánamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press.

Just another day of the world talking about Guantánamo Bay.

Why care? It's not because I am queasy about the war on terrorism. It is because I want to win the war on terrorism. And it is now obvious from reports in my own paper and others that the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks? This is not just deeply immoral, it is strategically dangerous.

First of all, let's get something straight.

There have been no detainee deaths at Gitmo. Not one. Zero. Perhaps Mr. Friedman would explain how shutting down Guantanamo Bay, arguably the safest of the detainment facilities (if you look at detainee deaths, and I'd say that's a pretty good yardstick) solves the problem of abuse and fatalities at other detention facilities?

But the welfare of the detainees (or justice, or any number of other lofty concerns) is not Mr. Friedman's main argument. No, he is concerned about PR.


He thinks we should court world opinion by putting the detainees on trial with the eventual goal of "convicting as many as possible" (and then doing what with them? - we're essentially back to square one with fewer numbers) and releasing the rest:

Guantánamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty. If we have a case to be made against any of the 500 or so inmates still in Guantánamo, then it is high time we put them on trial, convict as many possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and then simply let the rest go home or to a third country. Sure, a few may come back to haunt us. But at least they won't be able to take advantage of Guantánamo as an engine of recruitment to enlist thousands more. I would rather have a few more bad guys roaming the world than a whole new generation.

"This is not about being for or against the war," said Michael Posner, the executive director of Human Rights First, which is closely following this issue. "It is about doing it right. If we are going to transform the Middle East, we have to be law-abiding and uphold the values we want them to embrace - otherwise it is not going to work."

The Internet is buzzing with reactions to Mr. Friedman's op-ed. In a well-reasoned piece, Michelle Malkin observes that we've heard only one side of the story from the media: (often unsubstantiated) allegations of abuse and infractions of existing rules. Where's the balance? What about the extraordinary efforts made at Gitmo to accomodate detainees' religious beliefs?

Each detainee's cell has a sink installed low to the ground, "to make it easier for the detainees to wash their feet" before Muslim prayer, Saar reports. Detainees get "two hot halal, or religiously correct, meals" a day in addition to an MRE (meal ready to eat). Loudspeakers broadcast the Muslims' call to prayer five times a day.

Every detainee gets a prayer mat, cap and Koran. Every cell has a stenciled arrow pointing toward Mecca. Moreover, Gitmo's library -- yes, library -- is stocked with Jihadi books. "I was surprised that we'd be making that concession to the religious zealotry of the terrorists," Saar admits. "[I]t seemed to me that the camp command was helping to facilitate the terrorists' religious devotion." Saar notes that one FBI special agent involved in interrogations even grew a beard like the detainees "as a sort of show of respect for their faith."

Paul Mirengoff (via Malkin) makes the oft-cited point that released detainees would simply take up arms against us, perhaps even participating in the next 9/11. It's not too hard to imagine the shrieking from the Left, should a released detainee's face show up on a list of hijackers the next time America is attacked.

I am less worried about this than many. There are literally thousands of potential terrorists in the world. I doubt Gitmo detainees pose any greater threat to us than others currently lurking out there. In fact, having been out of the game for several years they may pose less of a threat. What I find remarkable is that neither Mr. Friedman, whose pantyhose are perpetually in a knot over whether America will make the global cheerleading squad, nor anyone else I've seen has mentioned the incredible PR damage that could result from releasing detainees en masse.

As several people have noted, al Qaeda manuals specifically instruct operatives to accuse their captors of abuse and Koran desecration.

What, then, are the odds that not a single released detainee would write a tell-all account of unspeakable tortures endured at the hands of those infidel Americans, complete with graphic descriptions?

Mr. Friedman is so worried about world opinion. Does he seriously imagine that as we try and release large numbers of detainees in a quixotic effort to solve a detainee death problem that does not exist at Gitmo, the PR problem will not be exacerbated?

Does he believe the American (not to mention the Arab) media will tamely sit on their hands and not try to uncover secret court documents and anonymous sources willing to speak off the record about unsubstantiated allegations of abuse? That a world hungry for titillating details and unconcerned with evidence will not believe them? I find that assumption willfully naive.

So where do we go from here? I find myself back where I started at 4:30 yesterday morning: at QandO, grappling with a problem that troubles me deeply; that is too big to get my work-occupied mind completely around in the allotted time. Reading Jon's post, I had several reactions.

Yes, there are entirely too many people - too many conservatives, but too many liberals and libertarians, dammitall, too - who don't seem to care that detainees have been abused, and yes: let's admit it, have died while in our custody.

One quote Jon keeps throwing out (I believe it came from Dale) is "There are no bad troops - only bad leadership". This is nonsense. If there were no bad troops we would have no need for leaders. Leaders are necessary precisely because there are bad troops, and foolish troops and troops who need guidance. Leaders set the moral tone, and hopefully uncover wrongdoing and punish it. Only a fool believes that even the best leader will uncover 100% of the wrongdoing that occurs on his or her watch.

Let's look at a few facts, because although I believe the facts are deeply disturbing, I also believe that without some perspective it is impossible to make sense of this issue:

- So far, the United States has handled over 70,000 detainees in the war on terror.

- There have been 300 reported cases of detainee abuse. That is less than one-tenth of one percent, or .00428

- There have been 108 deaths. Of those, some have been determined by DOD to be homicide or negligent homicide, some occurred while detainees were rioting or trying to escape, some were ruled 'natural causes or accidental', and many are still under investigation.

Without trying to minimize the seriousness of these deaths or our moral culpability therefrom, the question is not asked: what would their fate have been, had we not imprisoned them? It is an interesting question. As war becomes more 'humane', we look for alternatives to killing: sanctions (and we all know how well that worked against Iraq - how many starved due to Oil-for-Food?), taking prisoners instead of killing captives.

Jon Henke argues that the current situation is intolerable from a moral standpoint. What is needed?

That's just about where I stand: full transparency and due process, followed by 1) release, 2) a prison cell and POW status, or 3) an execution.

But the current state of affairs, with undeniable widespread abuse, torture and murder—either ordered, tacitly condoned, or at least not stopped, by the chain of command—is simply unacceptable. It deserves bipartisan outrage, especially from those of us who support the Bush administration's execution of the War on Terror. For if we cannot stand against torture and murder, then what do we stand for at all?

Interesting. First of all, as regards Gitmo, let me repeat: there have been no inmate fatalities there.

Second, execution is out of the question. Absolutely. Both US and world opinion would never stand for it, and the backlash from such a rash move would undoubtedly cost many more American lives. So that leaves options one and two, and we are (again) back to square one.

I'm afraid I find no one's commentary very realistic, even my own. I turned to McQ, with whom I generally agree, and found that although he voiced many of my own sentiments, I had to quibble with part of his argument. And I think in the end, this is the key to what I believe about this issue:

The “it’s a small percentage” argument is particularly heinous. Compared to Vietnam, our losses in Iraq are a small percentage. Does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned with the deaths in Iraq until they reach the proportions of Vietnam? Of course not. Nor should we callously wave off these deaths with a “it’s a small percentage” argument. There should be no deaths in our custody due to torture or abuse. None. That speaks to principle, not convenience, vengeance or rationalization.

Now I believe I understand what McQ meant to say here (though I may be wrong): the fact that our detainee deaths occur in smaller proportion than those of... say, Turkey makes it somehow OK that people have died in our custody. He's right: it doesn't. Wrong is wrong, even if it only happens once. Murder is murder, even if our troops commit it against a barbaric enemy. It is still wrong - you can't wave it away by saying, in effect, "Durnitall... we don't go in for that sort of thing but once in a blue moon. They do it all the time.". But there is an important distinction here, and I think it is worthwhile making it.

Zero tolerance policies are inherently idiotic and doomed to failure. If zero abuse, zero infractions of the rules is your yardstick for a successful process, you might as well hang up your hat before you even start. Don't bother playing the game. Saying "there should never be a single detainee death due to torture or abuse" is a fine statement of principle. But when you're looking at 70,000 detainees, the law of large numbers tells you there will be slip-ups.

Of course, that dead detainee lying on the floor didn't feel like much a number in the instant just before he marched off to meet Allah, did he?

But the instant we got into the business of being jailers instead of simply killing POWs, it was a virtual certainty that there would be abuse.

It was a virtual certainty that there would be deaths in captivity. The wonder (to me) is that there haven't been more. I am ashamed and horrified that there have been any, but I am not surprised.

Because, unlike Jon Henke's example of US prison populations, the detainees belong to a segment of the population that are actively trying to kill the jailers. And human nature, despite our best intentions, despite rules, and regulations, and leadership both good, bad, or nonexistent has not changed. It remains eminently fallible.

Should we close Gitmo? The only facility where there have been no deaths? On what basis?

Is zero tolerance of abuse or detainee deaths really a reasonable expectation? Despite my horror at the thought of US personnel committing the kinds of acts we deplore in others, I don't think so. Why do people imagine that if prisoners were given "POW" status, abuse would suddenly vanish from the earth? Let's be realistic. The rules must be fair. They must be enforced. Penalties must be swift and certain. But to say that if infractions occur that the system is irreparably damaged seems a bit much.

We have a tiger by the tail. If we let go, he will eat us alive. It seems the best we can do, as with the war, is to muddle through as best we can, periodically reassessing the situation and fixing what we can as we go. It is not a satisfactory answer, but it is an adult one.

We have released some detainees. We should probably continue that process, gradually and with due attention paid both to justice and our own security. A spasmodic knee-jerk reaction timed to curry favor with a world that hates us anyway will please no one and do us incalculable harm.

And we should keep our eye on the abuse problem, for it is a problem, despite what some say. It is not as widespread as many claim, but it is not something Americans who believe in democratic ideals and the rule of law can afford to ignore, either.

Is full transparency realistic? I'm not sure it is. The nature of abuse allegations is that, like civil lawsuits, the incentive for inflammatory allegations is built in. It costs nothing to make them and once made, the damage is done. And people - our troops - will die as a result. And as we have seen with Newsweek, the press have shown a disturbing reluctance to consider the consequences of releasing unofficial and unsubstantiated information, no matter how inflammatory, when it suits their political agenda. There is a balancing of freedom of information against security and national interest that is not counter to the principles in our Bill of Rights, even if the press no longer recognizes it. In prior wars, sensitive information has remained classified until after the war was over and the press has had to like it or lump it. And wrongdoing has undoubtedly been covered up before, but the Republic somehow survived the apocalypse. I imagine we'll get through this too.

Quite frankly, I don't give a rap what the world thinks of us. They will laud or damn us as the current tide of opinion dictates, and our actions seem to have little impact on their often frenetic bursts of emotion.

I care what we think of ourselves. And self-respect demands a careful, sober, and above-all honest look at what we are doing and the consequences of our actions, both with an eye to preserving our security now and upholding the ideals we preach to an onlooking world.

It matters, America. Not what they think. What we think. Our forefathers are watching.

Posted by Cassandra at June 1, 2005 05:05 AM

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» THE GITMO ROUND-UP from Michelle Malkin
As I mentioned yesterday, my column today responds to the chicken little hyperbole regarding Guantanamo Bay. Have there been abuses? Yes. Is it the "anti-Statue of Liberty?" Get a grip. Despite the MSM's allergic reaction, White House spokesman Scott M... [Read More]

Tracked on June 1, 2005 04:35 PM

» THE GITMO ROUND-UP from Michelle Malkin
As I mentioned yesterday, my column today responds to the chicken little hyperbole regarding Guantanamo Bay. Have there been abuses? Yes. Is it the "anti-Statue of Liberty?" Get a grip. Despite the MSM's allergic reaction, White House spokesman Scott M... [Read More]

Tracked on June 1, 2005 04:36 PM

» The Gulag Archipelego vs. Amnesty International's 'Gulags' from The Jawa Report
Work Will Make You Free Sign over the Auschwitz concentration camp. Labor in the USSR Is a Matter of Honor, Courage, and Heroism Sign over the gulag camps gates. Last week Amnesty International called the Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, detention facility... [Read More]

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» http://sundriesshack.com/index.php?p=1759 from The Sundries Shack
Villanous Cassandra is back from her blogging break and she's come out of her corner throwing haymakers everywhere. Read her prosaic brickbat to the noggin of the Crooked Timber folks. Exult in her merciless pummeling of Ralph Nader, professiona... [Read More]

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» Promemoria per Amnes(t)y from KrilliX
Anche la blogsfera si scatena. Ecco un breve roundup italo-americano. The Java Report su cosa furono i veri gulag. E poi RogerLSimon, Michelle Malkin, Babalu, AustinBay, Villainous Company, ScaredMonkeys. [Read More]

Tracked on June 2, 2005 10:38 AM

» What To Do About Gitmo? from News from Around the World
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Tracked on June 2, 2005 06:08 PM

Comments

There is an old folks home near Atlanta. People are dying there every day. I think there ought to be an investigation.

Posted by: KJ at June 1, 2005 08:58 AM

It has become worse than an embarrassment.

No, Mr. Friedman, you have become worse than an embarrasment.

Posted by: MathMom at June 1, 2005 09:04 AM

What really bothers me is that the number of old people who die is disproportionately large - I suspect some type of ageist agenda. You don't see pre-teens dropping like flies now do you?

I blame the Bush administration and the facist oppressors at Halliburton.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2005 09:05 AM

MathMom, I really wish you would prescribe for Mr. Friedman.

I'm thinking black cohosh for those bothersome hot flashes, a little something for the mood swings... I dunno, is there anything that can be done for the intermittent panic attacks? Do you think they might be related to his... err.. cycle?

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2005 09:07 AM

That's 2,690 words, Cass. 12,741 characters, 15,391 if you count spaces.

What are you putting in your coffee?

Posted by: spd rdr at June 1, 2005 09:15 AM

More importantly, I spent a long time on it, and what the helk did I say?

Not a hell of a lot, really. I should charge by the word. Good God.

I think I failed to make my point, and maybe I'm building up to a really big idea here that connects several things that have been worrying me. But at least I shut the squirrel inside my head up for a few hours.

And bored several people senseless in the interim... :) [dusting hands off]

My work is done.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2005 09:29 AM

Let us detain Mr. Friedman in the Gitmo Country Club. I ask you: In the tropics, near the beach,
food specially prepared according to religious dietary law and jihadi revival meetings five times a day! What more could an insurgent supporter ask for?

Oh, I know, they forgot the 'sold to the USA' angle aspect. We didn't detain them because of 9-11 and they were caught breaking laws, no sirree bob! We BOUGHT them from the Pakistanis who bought them from the Taliban who brainwashed them into being sold so their families could eat!
I take it we did this to show the American people we are SERIOUS about scapegoating anyone from the ME.

In a pig's eye.

Posted by: Cricket at June 1, 2005 10:12 AM

Welcome back Cass, (sorry I'm late)

But you're absolutely right. We can't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. (and wasn't that pragmatism the basis for QandO's "New Libertarian" movement?)

It's a fine principle that there should be not one single civilian casaulty. However, no war has ever, or will ever, be fought without them. We should strive to minimize civilian and detainee deaths as best we can, but the elimination of either is a practical impossibility.

Last week one of the guys at QandO mentioned that the death rate is still higher than the general US prison death rate. However, the general US prison population is not even close to being primarily (much less solely) filled with violent criminals who wish nothing but death on everyone else. I expect a much lower inmate death rate where Martha Stewart went to jail than I do in a max security facility.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at June 1, 2005 10:13 AM

spd, who's counting? Cass, what Mr. Friedman needs is a hystericalectomy and hormone replacement therapy. Mathmom would only CURE HIM. We can't have that. We want him oppressed like other womyn.

Posted by: Cricket at June 1, 2005 10:16 AM

I wasn't being mean to Cass, Ladybug. I was just giving her a hard time for not slowing down like she promised she would. (Ok, maybe she didn't promise, but that's not the point.

Now for MY major input on the subject:
I am for letting all of the detainees loose into Cuba. Call it payback for Castro megadump of his criminals and insane in resposonse to Carter's idiot boatlift.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 1, 2005 10:27 AM

Exactly Menace. Moreover, it is ludicrous to compare the US prison population, Gitmo, and the other detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan as though they were the same.

They're not. I didn't want to get into this in an already over-long post, but there is very likely a reason (or several reasons) there have been no deaths that we know of at Gitmo.

Different situation for the jailers, different conditions and expectations for the jailed - they are more isolated from their point of origin, so they perhaps have less expectation that they can escape or that rioting will do them any good. To pretend there is no cause-effect connection between the behavior of the jailed and jailers is silly beyond belief.

The jailers aren't under threat of attack and aren't living in or near the war zone. That matters.

And physically, Gitmo is that much closer to the US. Accountability and nearness of the chain of command must seem more immediate.

All of this stuff weighs into the equation, yet people want to toss numbers around as though the situations were identical and there were parity. There isn't.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2005 10:35 AM

spd, I know. I was just wondering how you counted them. You of all people are insightful and can tease without the sting.

I love your "Final Gitmo Solution," BTW. Poetic Justice is the best.

Posted by: Cricket at June 1, 2005 12:28 PM

Cricket, you forget: he's an attorney. He had his busty paralegal count them by hand and he'll be sending me the bill shortly.

*running away*

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2005 12:41 PM

The criminals in Gitmo are more likely to think suicide is cool. They probably didn't come from countries with nearly the same life expectancy as the US.

Posted by: KJ at June 1, 2005 02:22 PM

Cassandra makes a good point that it is foolish to suggest that the press refrain from reporting the truth in order to preserve the image of the U.S. military in the eyes of Islamofascists. Cassandra concludes, in a long post sometimes arguing the opposite, that it just doesn't matter much what non-Americans think about America.

Indeed it does not matter what Islamofascists, for example, think about America. It's important to note that Islamofascists actually "think" very little, though they "believe" a lot)j. It is crucial, however, what moderate, progressive Muslims and their allies think about America. The stability and development of the Middle East does not depend on winning the hearts and minds of the tiny minority of jihadists in that region and Southeast Asia. Rather, it depends on winning the hearts and minds of the vast majority of peace-loving, tolerant, educated, freedom-seeking Muslims.
These Muslims are smart enough and sophisticated enough to themselves draw distinctions between the vocal minority of Americans who either support torture of Muslims or who want their government to keep evidence of torture and other abuses secret and the majority of truth-loving Americans who understand that freedom of speech, transparent government and unsparing self-criticism are marks of strength, not weakness.

Posted by: bunkerbuster at June 6, 2005 08:51 PM

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