“Cold-blooded killers”

Should we believe that GITMO detainess are dangerous?

Commenting on the case of Abdullah Mujahid – a pro-American Afghan sent to Guantanamo by mistake – Kevin Drum throws in this aside:

Plenty of the inmates at Guantánamo are genuinely dangerous people, and we can hardly afford to let them go free just because we don’t have Perry Mason standards of evidence against them.

Drum is rightly determined to evade the GOP smear that “Democrats are soft on terrorism”. But he goes the wrong way about it.

It is logically possible that:

A. Some of the GITMO prisoners are dangerous people.

B. None of the GITMO prisoners are dangerous people.

Should we believe A or B or suspend judgment?

What does “dangerous” mean? Let us follow George Bush’s own definition. In his Vienna press conference he said:

There are some who need to be tried in U.S. courts. They’re cold-blooded killers. They will murder somebody if they’re let out on the street. … I’m not going to let people out on the street that will do you harm.

Translating “cold-blooded killers”, I get something like “persons against whom there are solid grounds, not necessarily amounting to certainty but much more than mere suspicion, for believing them to be participants in crimes of terrorism”; we define “terrorism” as “commission or active planning of deadly violence against civilians for political purposes”. Now Iraqi insurgents who target American soldiers with roadside bombs, and war criminals who execute American prisoners, are enemies all right; and something has to be done about people against whom there is only suspicion of membership in a terrorist network – they should be tracked day and night. It’s also true that in irregular warfare, it’s often necessary to intern prisoners and even civilians for the duration of hostilities in the theatre (not a never-ending “war”). It is simply that the extreme violations in GITMO and Bagram of the due process that is routinely granted to organised crime leaders, genocidal politicians, fascist torturers and serial killers cannot possibly be justified for anything less than evidence of real terrorism.

The evidence for proposition A consists of

(1) unsupported assertions of President Bush and his senior officials;

(2) trials in Spain and France on terrorist-association charges of seven ex-GITMO prisoners (those returned to Britain, Denmark and Sweden were, according to this source, released without charges, and without evil consequences to date).

The circumstantial evidence for proposition B is that

(1) a number of persons detained for long periods and then released without charge, for example in Britain, appear not to be dangerous in our sense;

(2) no GITMO detainee has, so far as I know, been brought to trial in the US in a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees … recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples” (Geneva Conventions Common Article 3), i.e. a civilian court or a UCMJ court martial or an ad hoc tribumal modeled on one; this failure indicates a systematic lack of the evidence required to convict in such courts;

(3) there are numerous reports that confessions have been extracted by torture and other mistreatment, evidence which has no value in common sense, let alone law, but is (we understand) used to justify continued detention;

(4) President Bush and his senior officials have a very strong incentive to conceal the facts about Guantanamo and Bagram as long as possible, not only for political advantage, but to prevent and delay future prosecutions for war crime, especially if B is true.

The evidence for B is suggestive not probative. The evidence for A is worthless, except for the French and Spanish trials. We should therefore suspend judgment until the evidence is investigated by people we can trust.

Americans have no choice but to buy a used dirty war from this man. They do not have to buy the sales pitch.

Update PS: good thread at TPMcafé on a post by Juliette Kayyem on how Democrats should react to Hamdan. Most commenters are for running principled not scared.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

19 thoughts on ““Cold-blooded killers””

  1. Lots of things are logically possible. Even the standard in civilian criminal courts in the US is "beyond a reasonable doubt," not "beyond any doubt." It is logically possible that we failed to pick up ANY hard core Taliban or Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and send them to Guantanamo. And certainly there has been plenty of incompetence (and, at the highest levels certainly, lack of integrity) in the carrying out of our military missions there and in Iraq. However it strains credulity to accept that not a SINGLE ONE of the CIA or military officers involved in capturing these people and deciding to send them to Guantanamo were sufficiently competent to properly id ANYONE dangerous at all. The administration's lack of integrity, incompetence, and smarmy rhetoric probably affected the proportions, and no doubt have made it harder for us to figure out who's who, what's what, and what to do about it — but they don't turn "logical possibility" into a reasonable likelihood that we should suspend judgment about.
    Administration rhetoric has been carefully constructed to set up a false dichotomy and you have taken the bait.

  2. True, Larry, but I also don't think there's a reasonable likelihood that not a SINGLE ONE of the prisoners is innocent. Neither of those logical possibilities is a real possibility. How about we discount both A and B but suspend judgment on each individual case?

  3. Drum is an idiot. He still thinks we're going to win in Eye-rack. Whatever "win" means anymore.

  4. Isn't there some evidence that some of those held were simply completely innocent and kidnapped in Afghanistan (by non-US forces) and turned over for reward money? (Maybe they've already released a lot of those guys.)

  5. Gitmo or GITMO? Wikipedia says the US Navy abbreviation – posibly a signals code – for the naval station is GTMO. Hence "Gitmo", presumably from the obvious pronunciation. So you're right. I'll leave this error in the post for the edification of our readers.

  6. Larry: I'm trying and failing to understand your criticism. I thought it was clear that the proposition on which we should suspend judgment is simply George Bush's "there are dangerous terrorists in Gitmo." I do not of course think that we should suspend judgment on Gitmo: it's an atrocity, both of principle and of practice, even if its prisoners are terrorists (which we don't know). I've been posting about US war crimes for a year now, eg http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/6/20/153438/502… and http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/7/28/18279/6544

  7. Let no one say that Mark is soft on terror: He's in favor of tracking suspected terrorists day and night! That'll do it!
    Other than that, I find myself wondering why it's acts of terror and only acts of terror that would justify detention. Why wouldn't it be enough to, say, attack US soldiers in Afghanistan? Or enough to be found training at an al Qaeda camp?
    And why would a refusal to bring charges in a particular kind of court reveal a lack of evidence? Wouldn't it be possible that it reveals only a lack of evidence that one wants to present in such a forum?
    But one is free to follow Mark off the cliff. Mark, what will you do when your party is someday (help us) in charge again? If no charges for war crimes are brought, won't that tell us something, about you or your party? If the Joint Chiefs aren't in the dock, then surely you'll speak out forcefully.

  8. I'm not a lawyer but I know what my political response would be — we have dealt with terrorism in the courts before, after Timothy McVeigh attacked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. And 12 ordinary citizens were able to look that killer in the face and figure out the right and wrong of it just fine. The republic didn't crumble and "cold blooded killers" were not set free.
    The president doesn't have magical powers here — pick any 12 Americans, as our laws mandate, and guess what? They'll figure it out the right way again, just like they did with McVeigh. Our legal system is strong enough, our people are smart enough.
    The problem here is that the Bush Administration and its supporters don't believe that.

  9. No, Thomas, it isn't "enough to, say, attack US soldiers in Afghanistan" — that would be enough to justify detaining a person as a POW with all the attendant rights and privileges.
    And Mike Liveright, I might have thought like you except for recent reports from people who have actually talked to detainees or ex-detainees. The word from an attorney on the Hamdan case is that the mere fact that the Supreme Court would intervene for an Afghan nobody has made a huge positive impression.

  10. James,
    Sorry if I wasn't clear. KCinDC I think points the way: It's necessary to suspend judgment in each individual case, in order to protect the integrity of judicial processes and so to have the best chance of the right outcomes. However, to suspend judgment on the collective assertion "there are dangerous terrorists" held there simply doesn't make any sense to me. To repeat, suspending judgment on this proposition seems to me equivalent to thinking there is a reasonable chance that every single officer involved in capturing and processing these people was dishonest or incompetent or both. I don't think there's a reasonable chance that that was the case. Therefore I believe that we should not suspend judgment on the question of whether some of these prisoners are dangerous.
    To be completely clear: It seems to me beyond a reasonable doubt that there are dangerous people held at Guantanamo.
    Bush/Cheney want to conflate the distinction that KC draws and so make criticism of their policies seem ridiculous and dangerous. I don't think we should agree to that conflation.

  11. James:
    While the formulation of the Guantanamo-prisoners situation as you outlined:
    A. Some of the GITMO prisoners are dangerous people.
    B. None of the GITMO prisoners are dangerous people.
    is a functional one for purposes of this post's discussion: it omits an additional proposition which is, and has been, an inescapable part of the entire Guantanamo controversy: to wit:
    C. All of the GITMO prisoners are dangerous people.
    Option C. being, if not formal, stated grounds for Adminstration policy towards Guantanamo detainees, a proposition which has been implicitly used as an argument by Adminstration apologists (mostly right-wing bloggers and other reality-impaired types) against any criticism of the US' treatment of the Gitmo prisoners. Sort of along the lines of "Well, they're in jail, so they must be guilty".
    Makes no logical sense, sure, but in consideration of "terrorism" and "national security" issues these days, most government officials (and, sadly, the bulk of the public that elects them) will go for facile-but-tough over "sensible" almost every time.

  12. Hmm, I think I somehow misread A to have "all" instead of "some". Apologies for the confusion, though it seems some people got something out of my comment nonetheless.
    Susan, how many of the prisoners know anything about the Supreme Court's intervention? Aren't people prohibited from bringing them news from the outside world?

  13. Let's assume the people who have been capturing suspected terrorists are truly incompetent, and when they target someone as a terrorist, they're only 1% likely to be guilty. If there are 520 prisoners in Gitmo (google tells me the number was at least that at one point), then the chance that every single one of them is innocent is 0.5%. So even under a grossly unrealistic assumption about incompetence, it would still be 99.5% likely that at least one person in Gitmo is guilty. I see exactly no reason to believe Bush's people are more than 99% incompetent, so there's no reasonable doubt here: A is correct and B is wrong.
    But note that the reverse holds for "every person in Gitmo is guilty," which is the proposition the administration and its apologists have been basing their case on.

  14. KC, you may rest assured that every prisoner in Guantanamo knows of the Hamdan decision.

  15. "KC, you may rest assured that every prisoner in Guantanamo knows of the Hamdan decision."
    Really? How? Do they all have lawyers who have contact with them? Did the guards tell them.
    Seriously, how do they know about it?

  16. Salim Hamdan knows because his lawyer called him on the phone — they let him do it just this once. No matter where Hamdan is at the Camp, though, he'll have been able to get word to someone, who'll get word to the others. Camp V is more or less soundproof, and least with respect to sounds from the outside, but the prisoners have developed ways of communicating even there.
    Lawyers are permitted to send mail to their clients, which takes from 2 to four weeks to be delivered. The mail is screened for contraband, and there's a special team that reviews everything. If one wanted to know more, quite a bit of this is described in court filings.
    [I wrote a longer comment about the dramatic reading some prisoners gave of a court transcript they'd translated from English to Arabic, but it's too depressing to think about. We civilian lawyers really gave the government an opportunity to get out of this thing gracefully, even helping on the hearts and minds side of the WOT, but the idiots in charge can't accept help].

Comments are closed.