Friday, December 12, 2008

Not Torturing People Can Be Such a Pain!

William McGurn can't figure out how to close Guantanamo. To any would be do gooder looking to close the camp, he poses the following questions:

Where in America would you put these men? Would you release them on American soil if they are found not guilty? What about those whose home countries will not take them back? And what do you do with the toughest cases: those for whom the evidence is insufficient for a trial, but sufficient to tell us they are far too dangerous to release?

A perplexing quandary, indeed. It would, perhaps, be besides the point to mention that we wouldn't be faced with this spurious "problem" if people like McGurn hadn't been vigorously arguing for the United States' right to kidnap anyone we don't like from anywhere on the planet. Though it may seem

Any discussion of Guantanamo has to begin with acknowledging that two-thirds of the 775 "enemy combatants" who have been held there have been released with no charges. Of these, only a few have been linked to terrorist activity after release. The highest estimate I saw was at National Review, which said 20. Any District Attorney in the United States with such an abysmal record would quickly find herself out of a job.

McGurn's first question sets the tone for the rest. Where in America to put Them? I think first we should acknowledge that there are many former residents of Guantanamo who I would much rather have living amongst us than Mr. McGurn himself. Moazzam Begg, for example, was held for three years before being released. Similarly, Murat Kurnaz seems like a very upstanding fellow. Even though he was kidnapped and held for five years, he says he doesn't hold ordinary Americans responsible for the outrages he suffered. Kurnaz's interview is part of a very valuable McClatchy database of interviews with 66 released prisoners. Reading the interviews, you get a sense of the sheer arbitrariness that characterizes imprisonment at Guantanamo. Jan Mohammed was conscripted by the Taliban in 2001. Wissam Abdul Ahmad was a Jordanian Sunni missionary in Iran arrested by Iranian authorities and turned over to the Americans in Afghanistan. In short, many of the men at Guantanamo were doing nothing wrong when they were kidnapped, and were found to have done nothing worth imprisoning them for.

McGurn's next problem is similarly contrived: What about those countries that won't take prisoners back? Once again, this would not be a problem had the United States not kidnapped these people in the first place. Facing the situation at hand, it would seem that it would be the duty of any civilized country, having wrongfully abducted and imprisoned someone for several years, to provide them with some sort of compensation. Finding a country that would be acceptable to former detainees is the least we could do.

McGurn's first two challenges are effectively smokescreens. Even if we grant the questionable propositions that we can find nowhere willing to take former detainees and we don't want them Here, neither of these is a compelling reason for keeping people captive in six by eight foot cells in a prison known to be a site of torture. Even if McGurn's questions were actual dilemmas, they would still not justify keeping Guantanamo open.

The last question is supposedly the most vexing. What about the eeeeeeevildoers? Well, what about them? What exactly is the evidentiary situation that requries the US to continue holding someone indefinitely but is not enough evidence for a trial?

I think the legal structure of indefinite detention that we are seeing at Guantanamo is a reflection of the open-ended status of American occupations in the Mideast. While in traditional inter-imperialist wars, prisoners of war were held until one state was victorious over the other, the United States' failure in suppressing the insurgency in either Afghanistan or Iraq is leading the state to previously unheard of policies for detention. This is, I believe, part of the reason why the prisoner of war status has been unceremoniously dumped (the other, more important reason is that it confers well-defined legal protections on its subjects.) The open-ended imprisonment of those held at Guantanamo is a manifestation of what Michael Schwartz has called the America's plan for War Without End.