Friday, June 23, 2006
We have mail from serving officers in positions to know somewhat of the situation in Guantanamo.
It began with a question from me to a serving officer:
What would you do if you were suddenly put in charge of the detention program?
which prompted this reply:
I'd call them all POWs, open the camp to Red Cross and country representatives, and, depending on the conflict with which they are associated, release some, detain others, and with those very few that actually are terrorists, I'd get them before a recognized tribunal and put them away forever. Most are at worst "unprivileged belligerents" an interesting term considering our own use of non-uniformed personnel in combat roles (special forces and CIA pop to mind). Your average unprivileged belligerent is someone who took up arms to fight the US without a uniformed arm force's immunity. Interestingly, neither the Taliban (the de facto government of Afghanistan) nor the Northern Alliance (our allies) had most of their forces in an actual defined, uniformed military.
Gitmo itself is a bizarre world. Legal access to clients is so severely limited, it takes 3 weeks notice and then the prison seldom manages to get counsel to see the client in a timely way or usually on the correct date. It's a moot point, since counsel can't show him documents or discuss the witnesses against him. "Full and fair trial" is the goal they set, and but military defense counsel is usually blinded by the fact that being lawyers they view it all with a predeliction for U.S. style trials, most especially courts-martial. As with most of those who aren't prosecutors in the system, I wonder why we didn't just adopt the rules for courts-martial and be done with it. Oddly enough, the rules specifically contemplate they will be used in military commissions.
A serving officer
I then asked Is there a reasonable way out that is politically possible?
Is there a path out of here? Because the situation seems to me to be ethically unsound and likely to corrupt the soldiers involved in it; politically unsound for either republic or empire; and strategically disastrous since it has no upside I can see at all. It won't deter and it won't recruit and it won't seduce.
It is, as Talleyrand said, a mistake.
Now how the hell do we get out of here?
Simply put, it would mean admitting an error. When the President issued his order in November 2001, they really thought the commissions would be used to try bin Laden and similarly situated terrorists. What they ended up with were low level soldiers. The only thing close to a typical terrorist is the guy they allege was the propagandist for al Qaeda. Important find? Sure. Planner? Decision maker? No. Not even a go-out-and-blow-stuff-up-guy. Those that are charged are literally just soldiers, even if illegal soldiers. Khadr, charged with murder, allegedly killed a soldier in a fire-fight. By most definitions, that's not a war crime, just a crime crime.
Say the defense cousel wins and the client is acquitted: he returns to his cell. Say he's convicted, and gets 20 years: he goes back to the same cell. Is that really worth the million dollars they're gonna pay to achieve that? Not to mention the whole torture evidence issue. Admissable, certainly under the "rules." How a U.S. tribunal got to that point, I'll never know.
Google for the story of the two prosecutors who alleged misconduct in their shop. It's an interesting read. I think it was in the New Yorker.
A serving officer
That caused me to ask around among my sources, and came up with this:
The General Counsel's office at DOD is a large part of the problem. Not military, not litigators, political animals only, and they are gumming up the works in a big way. I have to say, I only see a political solution, and it would require Pres. Bush get some pretty significant changes in his advisors, which I don't see happening.
As for the commissions, there are those in the office of the Appointing Authority (essentially the convening authority) who want defined rules and a system that looks much more like a court-martial. That solves small pieces of the problem, but not the large one, should we be doing this at all. The chief prosecutor likened the defendants and their counsel to vampires, and the court process to the sunlight, but he misses the point. Yes, the defense counsels are actively fighting going to court, but it's because of the fundamentally unsound nature of the proceedings. If you were told you were being criminally charged, you could be sentenced to life in prison and guilt or innocence were based on whether you were an upright bi-ped, you'd be fighting ever getting in that tribunal, not spending time trying to show that you are an irregular quadraped. The defense is going to lose, it's a forgone conclusion. What defense counsel is doing now is making the record clear so that upon review no one could call these "full and fair trials."
As for Gitmo's prison, I feel for those soldiers that guard those detainees. They are young, inexperienced, not trained for that duty but trying real hard, as young soldiers do. Force feeding a 120 pound detainee chained to a wheelchair is not soldiering. We have a small, very small, segment of the military police trained to do prison work, but they aren't trained for POW work long term, and those that think POWs (or detainees) and criminal prisoners represent the same issues are wrong. In positions of power, but wrong.
A serving officer in a position to observe
This was a few weeks ago. We then had other mail about Guantanamo regarding the suicides there. This produced this letter:
Your readership has a fairly typical reaction to those at Gitmo, and it's not unreasonable. The public has been told repeatedly, and by those very high in power, that Gitmo houses "the worst of the worst." Mind you, one would assume that the detainees charged would be either a representative sample or would be the worst identified offenders. Here is a link to the charge sheets of the detainees currently charged: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/commissions.html . One thing that you will notice right away is that, if true, the allegations hardly equate to what you or I would consider "terrorist" let alone worst of the worst.
The detainees who have been charged were moved from (in most cases) a maximum security facility where they could see and speak to other detainees pretty much twenty-four/seven. They could essentially see other detainees from their cells, and interacted regularly. Now, the charged detainees are in solitary cells where they are limited to one hour per day of human interaction when they are exercised. Even then, they only see one or two other detainees at a time. The official reaction to complaints about this treatment is to point out that the prison is modeled on one existing in the U.S. now. The caveat that is unspoken, however, is that the people in that existing U.S. prison are convicted prisoners, being punished. Ostensibly, no element of "punishment" exists in our treatment of detainees. In fact, to be in the "segregation" area of the U.S. prison, you have to demonstrate that you are a security risk, or a threat to the life or health of others. A couple of the charged detainees were in the highest privilege status of well-behaved prisoners, a status earned by months and months of compliant behavior - - now they are in solitary.
Before rooting for more suicides, your readers need to remember the Boston "Massacre". The British soldiers and their officer were tried (and but for two of the eight or so, acquitted). Their lawyer, the man who would follow Washington in the Presidency, John Adams, saw much the same reaction among his fellow colonists as we now see toward the detainees. History repeats.
A serving officer
I have a few more letters from others, but I do not see how I can edit to conceal identities; and while at least one officer is willing to be identified, I don't really want to be the one who does that. If the officer wants to go public, that's not my business; but I won't contribute. I do think this an important discussion. Part of my inquiries included some comments I have from troops who have had prison guard duty and can't wait to get out of it and back to anything including patrols in Baghdad.
Not entirely unconnected
Regarding today's note on the reaction to the beheading of our soldiers:
Subject: Our military
The restraint shown by our soldiers in confrontation with the barbarians over there is unbelievable. Considering what the troops have to strike back with and the fact that they don't, is a blessing of a high order that the Iraq's will probably never appreciate.
The Boston Massacre remark isn't really directly central to the story but I have highlighted it because it shows the way a liberal society should, indeed must for its own survival, treat justice & the law.