Yesterday Professor Mark Denbeaux from Senton Hall Law School visited my International Politics class to talk to us about Guantanamo. One of the first things he told us is that the debate over what constitutes torture has been obscuring the true issues at GITMO. As he said
Torture is irrelevant
What he was really concerned about is that none of the prisoners have had hearings, although this is changing after the Supreme Court’s decision in June that foreign detainees held for years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the right to appeal to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges.
Professor Denbeaux was also extremely concerned with the governments reasons as to why those detainees were there in the first place. Together with his law students, he did a study that used government evidence to find that, essentially,
the prisoners in Guantanamo are not the “worst of the worst,” in fact they are mostly just delinquents
His study found that 55 % of the people in GITMO are not accused of “committing a hostile act” and of the other 45 % that are accused of being “enemy combatants,” the overwhelming majority of those are accused for being enemy combatants by association. As he quickly found out, association often means that they were the assistant cook for the Taliban, who was the government from 1996 until 2001. As he put it
That’s the U.S. equivalent of calling someone a terrorist for talking to the post man
He added that since only 4% of the detainees were actually picked up by U.S. forces, most of them were sold to us for bounties, making finding evidence on them extremely difficult.
One of the questions asked at the end was
Well all of that really sucks but isn’t Obama going to fix it?
He said he believed in Obama but that its extremely difficult to get everyone out of GITMO as many of them can’t go back to their home countries for fear of being killed.
A NY Times article said that
The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law.
While I would argue that this case wasn’t Obama’s fault, the federal lawyer probably used the “state-secrets” argument without clearance from the top, it still scares me to think that there could be any continuation of the horrible policies that led to Guantanamo.