June 10, 2005

Gitmo Rollback?

From the AP:

The United States would rather have detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp imprisoned by their home countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

American officials are waiting until the Iraqi and Afghan authorities can deal with dangerous prisoners before handing over detainees from those countries, Mr. Rumsfeld said at a news conference during a NATO defense ministers' meeting.

"Our goal is to have them in the hands of the countries of origin, for the most part," he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld said he was unaware of anyone in the Bush administration discussing closing the prison in Cuba. Later Wednesday, President Bush said in a Fox News interview that his administration was "exploring all alternatives" for detaining the prisoners.

More on the Rumsfeldian rollback here:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was publicly out of synch with members of President Bush’s administration twice this week, marking rare aberrations for one of the Cabinet’s best at voicing the party line.

On Wednesday, Rumsfeld told reporters in Norway that he hadn’t heard anyone in the executive branch discuss the possibility of closing the U.S. prison camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Less than a day later, Bush said he wouldn’t rule out closing the prison.

So what happened? Was Rummy purposefully free-lancing, as is his dreary wont, to get out in front of the policy debate? Or did he, per chance, sincerely think he was in synch with POTUS (perhaps erroneously)? Or does Bush have no intention of closing Gitmo--so that Rummy was right when he made his pre-rollback Wednesday comments? If so, than the President was somewhat clumsy in seeming to leave all options on the table (including, of course, shutting it down) during his appearance on Fox. Still, Bush's response didn't seem a casual slip of the tongue. "Exploring all alternatives" means, to me, that shutting down Gitmo is at least on the policy-debate table.

Here's the best analysis I've seen yet from the Telegraph (UK):

With domestic voices joining the chorus of outrage over the fate of detainees at the base, President George W Bush provoked a flood of speculation when he left open the possibility of shutting it down.

"We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," he said, asked in an interview with Fox News whether he would close it.

He went on to defend the treatment of the 540 terrorist suspects at the camp as being in line with international standards. He also defended the policy of not treating them as prisoners of war.

But administration officials yesterday made clear that Mr Bush's remarks betrayed a significant shift, paving the way for heated debate in Washington over what to do with the terrorist suspects at the base.

The officials signalled that there were no immediate plans to close the base pending an anticipated clash between "hawks" and "doves" over its future.

Rather, the administration is expected to accelerate the transfer of detainees back to their home countries.

"It's never been our intention to hold these people indefinitely," said an administration official. "It is not our goal to be an international jailer."

The CIA and the Pentagon have long defended the use of Guantanamo Bay, a base on the eastern tip of Cuba, arguing that the detainees provide priceless intelligence to foil terrorist attacks.

Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, appeared to dismiss the idea of closing the base on Wednesday, saying he did not know of anyone in the administration entertaining such a thought.

But yesterday he took a markedly less hawkish stance, saying that America would rather the detainees were imprisoned in their home countries. [emphasis added]

Bottom line: Gitmo isn't going to be closed anytime soon. But there is going to be a big effort to send many of the detainees back to their respective home countries. And to try some of the worst of the lot rather than keep them in what is increasingly becoming a too long, indefinite captivity. Then, at some point a year or more down the road, one can begin to see conditions coming about allowing for Guantanamo's closure--the better so that it doesn't take on the air of a permanent penal colony. That's my best take of what the Administration might have in mind. Do readers agree?

P.S. Oh, and Rummy won't be spouting off like this again anytime soon: "I know of no one in the U.S. government, in the executive branch, that is considering closing Guantanamo." Er, except, at least arguably, the President. Who, last time I checked, is in the Executive Branch. Big time, as they say.

UPDATE: Andrew is perhaps a tad more optimistic than B.D. regarding the potential timing of a Gitmo closure. And meantime, in what I believe is a first, a Republican Senator comes out in favor of closing the detention center:

Sen. Mel Martinez, who served in President Bush's first Cabinet, on Friday became the first high-profile Republican to call for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists.

Speaking to a meeting of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in Key West, Martinez called the camp "an icon for bad news."

"At some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio: How much do you get out of having that facility there?" Martinez said. "Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it? Or can this be done some other way a little better?"

Can't say I'm surprised the first Republican Senator to come out in favor of closing Gitmo is a Cuban-American. The Castro-bashing is made harder, isn't it, when Fidel can disingenuously and propagandistically play the Gitmo-is-on-my-shores card? And no, I'm not comparing in any way Castro's decades long corrupt, totalitarian rule to a likely (at least arguably) constitutional detention center set up for enemy combatants during a time of national emergency. But you get my point, I think. And it's Mel Martinez's too. It's a cost-benefit thing. I'm no longer persuaded that the national security and intelligence benefits that Gitmo provides aren't outweighed by the (yes, often greatly exaggerated) public relations debacle Gitmo has become. I don't care if 'smart-piss' raced around a building and up a vent to despoil the Koran, or if as Max Boot says, detainees defiled more Korans than guards ever did. The utilitarian bottom line here is, now several years out, and putting aside all the grossly hyperbolic claptrap in places like London and Lahore that makes Gitmo out to be some contemporary Auschwitz or Dachau: is Gitmo contributing more to our national security than it is hurting it? And I think the pendelum is certainly swinging more towards the latter of late.

Gitmo advocates could persuade me differently with intelligent arguments, but for now I note the following: 1) there appear to now be approximately 558 detainees at Guantanamo (some estimates are a bit higher); 2) 38 were recently released as there was not enough convincing evidence that they were actually enemy combatants; 3) of the 520 or so left, the nationalities break-down appears thus: a) a helluva lot of Saudis (roughly 25% of the total), b) 85 from Yemen, c) 82 from Pakistan, and d) 80 from Afghanistan. There are also roughly 30 each from Jordan and Egypt, and Morocco and Algeria clock in in the high teens. What's my point? Well, there don't appear to be a ton of Iranians, Syrians, or hell, North Koreans at Guantanamo. We have major influence in Riyadh, Islamabad, Kabul, Amman, Cairo, Rabat and so on. In other words, we could probably send a lot of these bad guys back home for detention in the home countries--with strict assurances that they aren't going to be let out on the street anytime soon (I should note it would likely be very politically sensitive and difficult for the royal family in the Saudi Kingdom to take in a couple hundred of these a-holes though, all told, certainly doable). The baddest of the bad guys, those we just don't feel comfortable taking any chances with--well, assuming they've coughed up as much intel as we think they've got--let's try them and be done with it, OK? Yes, there are a sprinkling of Syrians, or random detainees like Uyghurs from China, or Chechens. It will be harder to figure out what to do with these detainees, doubtless. Which is why, unlike Andrew, I think Guantanamo might still be open more than a year from now. But shouldn't we be aiming to close it as soon as possible, certainly within two years, say? I mean, what real value added is it doing for us right now, really? Because it's sure not helping our rather moribund public diplomacy effort much. Yes, I know, P.D. is for sissies and real men don't deign to wade in these diversionary waters. Except that's B.S., of course, as it's a strategic component of winning the war on terror, or extremism, or whatever you want to call it. More on all this soon.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And now the Veep tries to roll-back the roll-back. Not thoroughly convincingly, however ("At present, there's no plan to close Gitmo. The president says we review all of our options on a continuous basis"). As I said, I'm looking out 18 or so months ahead, not at tomorrow or the next day.

Posted by Gregory at June 10, 2005 04:41 PM | TrackBack (5)

It sounds to me as if Rumsfeld was holding to the party line, and Bush reacted to criticism by holding out the possibility of changing it.

I wonder if the suggested possible revision -- sending detainees back to be imprisoned in their own countries -- bothers any of the people who have complained about renditions. This may be a moot point with respect to the many Guantanamo detainees who are Afghans, because their country lacks the facilities to hold them. But Pakistanis? Egyptians? Syrians? Chechens? They might be released, or they might be subjected to things that don't appear in Gen. Taguba's report. I'd be surprised if we could arrange a third option.

Posted by: JEB at June 10, 2005 09:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some of those guys may be going back to places where conditions are signifcantly rougher than where they are now. Amnesty Intl. may have made things worse if prisoners end up in places that feel "differently" about what constitutes torture.

Posted by: madjohn at June 10, 2005 09:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I still think we should do what the Geneva Conventions originally contemplated for illegal combatants, and just shoot them.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at June 10, 2005 10:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think they should be sent back to Afghanistan. Given that these people are Taliban and al Qaeda, the Afghanis have a prior complaint.

Posted by: mamapajamas at June 10, 2005 11:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Damn that AI for their "rank hyperbole".

Posted by: sofia at June 11, 2005 02:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are still a bunch of habeas corpus cases pending, no? Which leads me to believe that G-dubs can't just lay down his Holy Writ and make it so. We have laws and courts and all sorts of things like that in America, don't we?

Posted by: praktike at June 11, 2005 04:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The real question is why should Gitmo be kept open?

The Courts have roundly rejected the rationale behind keeping detainees at Guantanamo --- the idea that Gitmo represents some sort of legal "no mans land" where neither US law nor international law is applicable. Keeping Gitmo open simply affirms the perception of the rest of the world that the US considers itself above the law, and will continue to kidnap innocent people, hold them without providing them any means to prove their innocence, torture them, kill them, etc.....

Why not just transfer these people to military prisons on the US mainland?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at June 11, 2005 11:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

They have to be someplace.
If we ship them, then AI screams about rendition.
If we don't have the will to keep them, then just give them all tickets home and fly them, say to JFK or Newark, and let them depart from there. That should create some wonderful sound bites, and video, and bring the issue home to americans wondering about what kind of people we have there.
If we just place them in other prisons then the lens of the groups which believe that people, MANY OF WHOM WANT US ALL TO DIE, deserve them same rights as americans, in america, will simply shift to those prisons.

Terrorists who act in a stateless fashion have arrogated to themselves the rights of an army, courts, and an executive. They deserve neither the rights of POWS, nor the rights of those arrested in a police investigation, which a war is most assuredly not.

Bush is doing far less than Lincoln did.

Keep gitmo. Put the worst thru a tribunal. Release those who should be.

I hope that those in charge don't cave to the fear of subjective perceptions. Their job is our security, and devil take the hindmost. Provide for the common defense is near the top of the document for a reason.

Posted by: epaminondas at June 11, 2005 01:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

y'know, epaminodas, if you keep reading down the page there's some stuff about liberty and the pursuit of happiness. just saying, is all.

Posted by: belle waring at June 11, 2005 03:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Terrorists who act in a stateless fashion have arrogated to themselves the rights of an army, courts, and an executive. They deserve neither the rights of POWS, nor the rights of those arrested in a police investigation, which a war is most assuredly not.

the issue is how does one determine that someone suspected of being a "terrorist who acts in a stateless fashion", and not someone who is innocent but whom circumstantial evidence suggests is a terrorist --- how does one make that determination without providing due process of law?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at June 11, 2005 04:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, the military tribunals set up by the administration in the wake of the Afghan campaign would have been a fine mechanism to serve just that purpose. They could have been a means to timely process detainees picked up on the battlefield that were of no particular intelligence value and that we had little reason to believe were especially dangerous. I suspect, for example, that a solid majority of the Afghans detained at Guantanamo fell into this category.

Absent such a mechanism, the bureaucratic path of least resistance will always be to do nothing that risks having responsibility for a negative outcome fall on one's own head. In other words, if a detainee is released and then returns to terrorism, or was already deep into terrorism and is released by mistake, the career of the guy who signed the papers is over. It's easier to let all but the easiest cases sit in Cuba. Assigning the responsibility to a process and the several members of a tribunal is the way to address this issue, and avoid the injustice and bad publicity attendant on the detention of people we don't need to hold.

But in fact the tribunals were set up originally to determine if the worst of the worst were guilty of crimes for which they might be sentenced as under criminal law. This is exactly backwards. The hard core members of al Qaeda are entitled to no legal protections; were it not for their intelligence value and the difficulty of immediately distinguishing them from other detainees the United States would have been well justified in shooting them out of hand. The purpose of the Geneva Conventions is to limit the exposure of civilian populations to war, not to make it easier for people determined to kill civilians in any way possible.

If Amnesty International and European governments want to complain that we are not being nice enough to the hard core of al Qaeda, let them howl. The problem we have made for ourselves at Guantanamo and elsewhere is the prolonged detention of people held because no one was willing to take responsibility for releasing them and no regular process was set up to relieve individuals of that responsibility.

Posted by: JEB at June 11, 2005 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I am glad that you touch on the intelligence value of detainee. Information derives from detainees can be important, but it should be secondary. It should be used to confirm or deny existing intelligence, not an intelligence unto itself.

Whatever knowledge a detainee has, it is somewhat stale by the time it is revealed. The focus on interrogation by the US reveal a weakness in our intelligence capability - that we do not have operatives or informants that can provide us with fresh information.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at June 11, 2005 05:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm sorry, you're naive to the point of being to the point of active refusal to acknowledge the way the world works. We have so many Pakistanis, Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians precisely because their states actively encourage jihad against us to maintain internal legitimacy. THAT will not change until the governments AND the societies change. Iran and Syria do not face internal legitimacy questions because of their brutal hierarchical rule does not have various factions and power centers seriously threatening the current regimes. Plus, better secret police. They are however massive risks because they are openly providing Al Qaeda with sanctuary and military support.

HOW MANY AMERICAN LIVES are you willing to trade to feel better about Gitmo? For fear of somehow, someway, offending a Muslim on the planet?

Best to shoot the lot of them after tribunals, as a declaration that America is serious, pissed off, and to be feared (rather than a stupid and futile attempt to be "loved" ) by those intent on jihad and killing masses of Americans. Unless somehow human nature changed overnight (which I doubt it did) Machiavelli's advice on the utility of a ruler and nation being feared versus loved still holds true.

If we had quick trials, and shot most or all of the current prisoners, people would think twice about engaging in jihad against us. Coming after Lodi residents were arrested for attending Pakistani training camps run by Al Qaeda on how to "kill Americans" this would be a good thing to do. Last I checked 3,000 9/11 victims were still dead, and it's long past time we showed that Americans are deadly serious about killing off as many jihadis as possible (to deter further attacks). Some jihadis may be willing to die, but the financiers and logistical supporters without whom the attacks are impossible should be shown to be at REAL risk for summary execution by Uncle Sam wherever and whenever. If suicide-intent mass murderers can't get financing, lodging, training, false documents, and the like because of the fear of collaborators that they too will be shot, they are stuck at home in Riyadh or Islamabad instead of blowing up a US city. Israel's success in killing the organizers of suicide bombings is something we should be following; if need be organizing air strikes on whoever aids these terrorists in whatever country the operate in.

Bloody? Yes. They sought this. It'll be a million times worse if another, bigger 9/11 happens and we inevitably use our strategic nuclear weapons. Lose say 3 million in San Diego and several Middle Eastern countries would just disappear.

The attitudes of P Luksiak seems more concerned with how we are perceived (as good guys, this leads to moral vanity ala Jimmy Carter) rather than the overwhelming requirement to avoid the mass murder of more of our citizens and the inevitable strategic nuclear reprisals in total fury when that happens. Moral vanity is something we just can't afford. As a practical matter those found on the battlefield opposing us without the trappings of the soldier should suffer the same fate as the SS captured by US GIs after Malmedy. Summarily shot.

Minh-Duc is exactly right btw. The CIA is miserable in it's failure to provide even a smidgen of intel on Al Qaeda.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at June 12, 2005 03:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

re: Jim Rockford

I have reason to be skeptical we would ever use nuclear weapons in response to another 9/11 like attack. Realistically, the international repurcussions could quite possibly be more devastating than even if we used a comparable conventional strike.

Note that two of our biggest enemies, Iran and North Korea, seek nuclear programs out of a percieved need for defense in the event of a pre-emptive war. If Iran and North Korea suddenly decide that it is not even worth it militarily to deter the United States because of that, they may pre-empt us in turn.

The point is, killing 1/4 of the world's population that could be potentially be our enemy is simply an unfeasible option, no matter the scale of the attack. It also reflects a ideology of collective punishment. You bring up Israel: certainly suicide bombers should be shot from a security fence, and obviously some mistakes will happen. On the other hand, Israel is not about to firebomb West Gaza simply because of _potential_ suicide bombers. It would be an especially egregious move because of the presence of sympathizers, and even open allies towards the peace process.

Frankly, I think the best take on the nuclear issue is in the last issue of Foreign Policy. "Apocolypse Soon," Robert McNamara.

Check it out.


Posted by: Scott Nowers at June 12, 2005 08:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How many American lives would I trade to ensure due process for Gitmo prisoners? Exactly the number I'd trade for due process for Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy, Scott Peterson, and OJ Simpson. There's a reason we have a presumption of innocence, and proscribe the deprivation, by our government, of life, liberty or property of any person without due process of law.

Two additional observations:

(1) I would not be surprised in the least if an awful lot of evidence has been rendered inadmissible by poor handling on the part of DOD and or poor evidence gathering practices. The consequence will likely be the same as it is when the LAPD handles/gathers evidence poorly . . .

(2) Sending Gitmo prisoners abroad after getting a promise that the transferee government will continue to hold them is simply outsourcing the detention, and makes the US responsible for what the transferee does. (See the full title of the 17c habeas corpus act). This is especially so where the prisoners have not had a trial with ordinary due process.

Taken together, DOD doesn't have any good choices. The consequence of its refusal to deal with this issue from the beginning in a manner consistent with our values and traditions leaves them without the option they really want -- indefinite detention without review.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at June 13, 2005 06:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If we had quick trials, and shot most or all of the current prisoners, people would think twice about engaging in jihad against us."

You haven't really thought all that hard about this have you Jim?? Jihadists by definition are willing to die in a holy war. Executing them will not only serve their pupose it will provide all the rationale the recruiters need to keep on bringing in Fresh Meat for the grinder...

But then your approach has always been shoot first ask questions later so no surprises there...

Posted by: Aran Brown at June 13, 2005 09:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"How many American lives would I trade to ensure due process for Gitmo prisoners?"

A better question is: Would you give your life to be a victim of a released Gitmo terrorist? Released Gitmo terrorists have already killed many others in Afghanistan and elsewhere (imagine that, the less dangerous ones turn out to be killers!), and the premature release of more Gitmo terrorists WILL end the lives of innocents and possibly American soldiers.

Amnesty International doesnt care about the costs of releasing terrorists. They whined about an Iraqi named Shakir getting jailed in Jordan on 'suspicion' back in October 2001... so the Jordan govt let him go ... he was a planner for the 9/11 attack, as the 911 commission report confirmed. We still havent found him.

This issue is not their due process rights - They are captured enemy combatants in our global war on terror. Where do people get the nutty idea that POWs need 'due process rights' beyond what the military gives them? They need to stay under military confinement for 'the duration' or until the military has a better solution.


Posted by: Patrick at June 14, 2005 05:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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