Torturing the innocent

That’s what we’re doing at Guantánamo.

Brad DeLong is right to be angry with Stuart Taylor of the National Journal for Taylor’s previous weasel-worded defenses of torture at Guantánamo and elsewhere. (Brad provides multiple links and quotes.)

But the fact that Taylor’s new conviction that the majority of Guantánamo captives aren’t actually terrorists makes Taylor himself look like a monkey is all the more reason to take it seriously. His new conclusions clearly don’t stem from either preconception or personal motivation. Those conclusions, based on reporting from Corine Hegland, are:

A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, let alone on “the battlefield in Afghanistan” (as Bush asserted) while “trying to kill American forces” (as McClellan claimed).

Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members.

Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.

The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by villagers of highly doubtful reliability.

These locals had strong incentives to tar as terrorists any and all Arabs they could get their hands on as the Arabs fled war-torn Afghanistan in late 2001 and 2002 — including noncombatant teachers and humanitarian workers. And the Bush administration has apparently made very little effort to corroborate the plausible claims of innocence detailed by many of the men who were handed over.

(These are people, let us note, who have been held for more than four years now in conditions so horrible that scores of them are trying to starve themselves to death, and are being prevented from doing so by force-feeding.)

And the bottom line:

Bush has also pledged that the Guantanamo detainees are treated “humanely.” At the same time, he has stressed, “I know for certain … that these are bad people” — all of them, he has implied.

If the president believes either of these assertions, he is a fool. If he does not, choose your own word for him.

The idea that, as a matter of organizational reality, torture could be restricted to a narrow class of “ticking bomb” cases never really passed the straight-face test. Torture is a power that no human being, or institution composed of human beings, can be trusted to possess. For associating my country and its flag with these atrocities, I can never forgive George W. Bush and his partners in crime.

Impeach Bush? Hell, no! Ship the bastard off to the Hague and put him on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com