Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bomb Making

The Washington Post has an unusually long story today on a former Guantanamo inmate who connected with militants in Kuwait on his release and car-bombed an Iraqi police installation.

There are those who would say that such people are naturally inclined to violence. They claim these people were already prepared for such atrocities before being captured and will return to that life after release. It is nearly the last excuse made to keep Gitmo running or to keep the inmates confined.

However, the conditions there are one of the key reasons the GWoT failed. The site, from the reports published to date, is reminiscent of something out of medieval tales of incarceration and punishment, resembling less a normal prison and more something worse than a gulag but not quite at the level of a Nazi concentration camp. The gaolers behaved more like Inquisitors than interrogators, using techniques drawn from a US military programme intended to prepare US servicepeople to resist enemy interrogation techniques - techniques designed to produce propaganda and false intelligence. It is unlikely that any exposed to such treatment would look kindly on their captors on release regardless of their perceptions or intent on capture. The net result of Guantanamo, rather than the capture and confinement of terrorists, seems to be instead the manufacture of enemies of the West in general and the US in particular, achieved through the heavy-handed, brutal and undiluted tactics the interrogators used to achieve their ends and of which the prior [mal]administration either tacitly approved or explicitly prescribed.

The problem with the "detainees" at Guantanamo is what to do with them now. Rehabilitation isn't even on the agenda as yet, and the inmates have been subject to the brutal regimen there for several years. The US up to the present has attempted to rely on the home countries for the inmates released to continue their imprisonment, but as the Post article and others indicates, that is problematic:
Prosecutors filed charges against Ajmi and four other returned detainees in early 2006, fulfilling a promise the Kuwaitis made to the U.S. government. Ajmi was charged with fighting for a foreign army and with damaging Kuwait's relationship with other nations. If convicted, he could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

In some Middle Eastern nations, the five could have been brought before secret courts and detained for years without an open trial. Kuwait, however, abolished its special security court in 1995, to wide praise from the West. Since then, terrorism suspects have been prosecuted in ordinary criminal courts. "We don't have emergency laws anymore that allow the government to simply lock people up," said Ghanim al-Najjar, a professor of political science at Kuwait University.

But prosecutors soon ran into a problem. The U.S. government was not willing to share evidence that conclusively linked Ajmi or any of the four others to terrorist activities. The only U.S. document in Ajmi's court file here is a two-page investigative summary outlining the principal allegations against him: that he went AWOL from the Kuwaiti military and traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, that he received an AK-47 rifle and hand grenades from the Taliban, and that he fought for the Taliban.

The court file does not contain interrogation transcripts, or any data that corroborate U.S. claims that he was a Taliban fighter. It also does not include any records of his misbehavior during his final months at Guantanamo, even though the State Department wanted the Kuwaiti government to try the detainees as a condition of their transfer.

So at the same time the US turns to its allies in the GWoT to take custody of the Guantanamo inmates, it cannot present arguments for their continued incarceration. This is almost certainly due to the necessity of detailing the procedures used to extract information and confessions from the detainees, which by all accounts would not stand scrutiny by any civilian court and could indeed backfire on the US' case.

Yet as the story illustrates, the inmates, if released and left unmonitored, may very well present a real risk both to US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and to their home countries as well. After their treatment, it is arguable that any detainee is now suspect, and that his/her path will now lead to that terrorism the US supposedly sought to prevent whether it did before or not. Any nation receiving a returning Gitmo prisoner would be justified should it view that person as damaged goods. Rehabilitation for former inmates may well be impossible, and would certainly take years and substantial resources to accomplish if it could be achieved.

So the question remains: what to do with the prisoners of the GWoT? They could easily be detained permanently if the goal was simply a safe society; that goal, however, has more in keeping with totalitarianism than with the values usually associated with a free and open democracy as the US still pretends to be. That same course also permits the perpetuation of their mistreatment, and would sully the US' reputation abroad just as it risks subverting US ideals and US law at home. Foisting them back on their home countries in the hope of their continued imprisonment or monitoring is difficult given the US' inability to produce convincing evidence without admitting to atrocities of its own. Rehabilitation apparently has yet to be discussed in the US and is apparently not even being considered by the inmates' home nations. And release without any rehab or control, from at least the Post's example, is risky at best.

At the same time, if the conditions in the prisons used to house and question GWoT detainees are as ugly as described, the US needs accounting of its own if it expects to preserve its ideals as a free and just society. The "few bad apples" assertions of the past no longer suffice for that: the time has come for accountability from those who believed barbaric coercion techniques were appropriate to the preservation of a free, just and humane nation.

The US in particular needs to address the problem of reintegrating the detainees acquitted (either by the US or by their home nations) so that they can return to society without waging war on the West. Whether they were terrorists on their capture, the likelihood that they will be afterward is substantially higher thanks to their treatment, and the US must shoulder much responsibility for that and correct that as much as possible. Without such an effort, all the US will have done with those captured will be to have created even more "ticking time bombs."

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