Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Failure of Guantanamo

Guantanamo Bay has been in the news lately, especially since President Obama has declared his intent to close the detention facility there. One recent article reports a Pentagon statistic that 61 former Guantanamo detainees have returned to terrorism since their release. Another article reports that one released detainee has become an Al Qaida chief in Yemen. These articles (which may not be accurate) are a normal part of political push-back, and are being used to argue that Guantanamo is needed and should remain open. When you think about it, though, they are actually confirmation that Guantanamo has failed and should be closed.

At the root of the problem is the decision made early on by the Bush administration to classify these detainees as "enemy combatants." The term is not an empty formality, and the decision to use it certainly not a casual one. Very simply, when the United States began to capture people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places after the 9/11 attacks, there were two choices. They could be classified as criminals, which would place them in the criminal justice system, and provide access to the normal rights of persons held under that system. Or, they could be classified as prisoners of war, which would place them in the traditional military wartime detention system, and provide access to the traditional rights of persons held under that system (most notably the Geneva Conventions). Neither choice was acceptable to an administration intent on using "enhanced interrogation techniques" to gain information. By inventing the new classification of "enemy combatant" the detainees could not claim any right or privilege from either the criminal or military systems. The most immediate result was that the administration would not be bound by the inconvenient restrictions of the Constitution nor the Geneva Conventions. The idea was that intelligence gathering would be enhanced in the short term.

The short-term decision has led to long-term problems. If the detainees were held in a (civilian or military) criminal justice system we could rely on a system of protocols and processes developed over hundreds of years to deal with a wide variety of situations. Similarly, if the detainees were held as prisoners of war we would have a system of protocols and procedures developed over hundreds of years to deal with them. Since the category of enemy combatant is newly invented, there are no protocols nor procedures in place to deal with the detainees. There is no process nor standard for obtaining evidence, weighing it, and using it against a (potentially) guilty detainee. The administration effectively had to make it up as they went, and it showed

The lack of process is evident in the constantly changing rules and conditions. For the first two years, detainees had
no access to legal counsel. In 2006, the United States Supreme Court rejected the first attempt at a trial system. By 2007, the detainees were granted access to Federal courts. It is absurd that a system that should be central to our security - the system that actually completes the job initiated by the military fighting and dying to capture them - should be run in such a haphazard and ineffective way. By late 2008 no less than four prosecuting attorneys, including the chief prosecuter resigned in protest (Another article on the resignations.) Evidence that was used to place the detainees in Guantanamo was deemed unworthy for use in a trial. In the end, having no system to keep the detainees, we started letting them go.

Think about that. Pretend that all the detainees in the recent news articles were innocent when caught. The years of detention in Guantanamo under a non-existent legal system must have turned them against the United States, creating enemies where they did not exist before. Or assume that these people were actively involved in terrorist actions against the United States when they were captured. The decision to label them as enemy combatants effectively removed them from any known legal system that would have allowed the United States to try them, judge them, and if needed keep them detained. The lack of process set them free to fight against us again.

People can argue as to whether Guantanamo is right or wrong, ethical or unethical, and never agree. But we can measure Guantanamo in another dimension, the measure of effectiveness (turns out nations tend to do what's effective, whether it's right or wrong anyway). Guantanamo is not effective, and maybe we can agree on that. Of the roughly 775 detainees, about 450 have been
released without charge. That means either the United States is so bad at catching bad guys that we throw innocent people into a prison reserved for the "worst of the worst" 60 percent of the time, or the system is so leaky that we let the guilty go 60% of the time. The Guantanamo approach fails well over half the time whether the detainee is innocent or guilty. And for that reason alone it should be closed down.

Friday, October 24, 2008

In God We Trust, but not Anonymous Emails

I recently received this email:

Payback is fun!!!!!!!!!!!!! WRITE IT ON THE BACK OF YOUR ENVELOPES or front! WE THINK THIS IS A GREAT IDEA. WE'LL START WRITING IT ON THE FRONT OF OUR ENVELOPES, TOO! ! Including Bills You may have heard in the news that a couple of Post Offices in Texas have been forced to take down small posters that say 'IN GOD WE TRUST ,' The law, they say, is being violated. Anyway, we heard proposed on a radio station show, that we should all write 'IN GOD WE TRUST' on the back of all our mail. After all, that's our National Motto, and it's on all the money we use to buy those stamps. We think it's a wonderful idea. We must take back our nation from all the people who think that anything that offends them should be removed. If you like this idea, please pass it on and DO IT. The idea of writing or stamping! 'IN GOD WE TRUST' on our envelopes sounds good to us WE'RE HAVING A STAMP MADE TOO! Lets use it as our signature on e-mails too! It's been reported that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, we have a very hard time understanding why there's such a mess about having 'In God We Trust!' on our money and having God in the pledge of Allegiance. Could it be that WE just need to take action and tell the 14% to 'sit down and shut up'? If you agree, pass this on, if not, delete!!! BUT REMEMBER IF YOU DELETE THIS, that's 1 reason why this world is in the mess we're in now. WE SIT BACK & LET IT HAPPEN!!

These kinds of things should always be checked out at Sure enough, it's there, and the story didn't exactly play out as implied in the email. There's a lot of information left out. It is true that several small post offices in Texas had to remove their "In God We Trust" posters. It was not because anybody had a problem with the message, and it was not because the "law was being violated" as claimed in the email. It was because the posters were provided by a private citizen (Frank P. Williamson) and postal regulations don't allow display of private material. The "In God We Trust" posters were removed at the request of the local postmaster, not because of some anonymous and intolerant "they."

Here is the relevant portion of the
postal regulations:

"Depositing or posting of handbills, flyers, pamphlets, signs, posters, placards, or other literature (except official postal and other governmental notices and announcements) on the grounds, walks, driveways, parking and maneuvering areas, exteriors of buildings, and other structures, or on the floors, walls, stairs, racks, counters, desks, writing tables, window ledges, or furnishings in interior public areas on postal premises is prohibited. This does not apply to the following:
a. Posting notices on employee bulletin boards as authorized by 39 CFR 243.2.
b. Interior space assigned to tenants for their exclusive use."

Now if people still want to write "In God We Trust" on their mail and bills, more power to them! It's a great use of free speech to express your beliefs. But as for telling the 14% to 'sit down and shut up' I do have a problem with that. This country thrives on diversity, and in my opinion it is the unique genius of this nation that all views get heard. In this case, the person who wrote this - the person who wants those not like him to shut up - was just plain wrong. Sadly it is too often the case that those who want others to shut up would benefit the most by listening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ms. Goose Says...

Early voting has begun in Florida and the lines are huge. This is great news. Unfortunately, the news media is portraying the long lines as a symptom of problems. People are complaining about having to wait two or three hours to vote. In reality, the long lines mean nothing more than that turnout is high, and the majority are exercising their right to vote. It means that early voting is working, because trying to process all these people in one day on election day would be impossible. And, as Ms. Goose says "If they can wait an hour in 95 degree heat for a ride at Disney, they can wait on a nice day to vote!" I have to agree.