Gitmo: The New Rules of War

Pierre-Richard Prosper said: “We’re applying the Geneva Conventions, but he by his conduct has not earned the benefits or privileges of being labelled a prisoner of war.”

That is some evil sounding rhetoric.

It’s my understanding that, according to Geneva Conventions, either someone is or is not a prisoner of war. A person doesn’t have to earn the benefits and privileges of being a prisoner of war. If you are being detained by a government because of allegations of involvment in fighting against that government, then you are by definition a prisoner of war.

Basically, Prosper is saying that the US government doesn’t care about international law and will apply it at whim without any explanation. Prosper doesn’t even explain the US policy about how someone earns the right to be treated like a human.

Prosper in this next video argues that we’re in an unconventional war that is against a private organization rather than a state. If that is the case, why did we invade and occupy two countries? And this is further confusing since the US government and other governments are increasingly relying upon private organiztions as mercenaries. Are we getting to the point where governments are stepping away from taking any responsibility of the wars they start and the killing they cause? In the future, governments will pull the strings behind the scenes while private organizations fight other private organizations. Meanwhile, innocent citizens will be caught in the middle.

Anarcho-capitalists argue only governments can fight wars and not private organizations, but I fear they are sadly wrong. If there is another world war (not of the cold war variety), it quite likely could be between private organizations that have no loyalty to any specific nation and so would have no responsibility to any specific citizenry. The private organizations who fight the wars could be the same that own the media. Just imagine if Blackwater became an large international mercenary force and imagine that it was owned by Rupert Murdoch.

My Response to the News

C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help in Plan to Kill Jihadists

One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.

“It’s wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin,” the official said. “It went well beyond that.”

I wrote about this story previously, but this is new info.  It seems that the argument for it being withheld from Congress was false.

Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.’s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.

Paramilitary hit teams… oh how it brings back the memories of America’s dark past.

In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.

Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company’s training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.

It sounds like the CIA and the former Blackwater are so entangled as to be inseparable.  Big government and big business melded together… fascism anyone?

Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.

If we were to go by American history, then there probably were and are all kinds of covert programs being hidden from Congressional oversight.  In my previous post about this story, I pointed out that it’s hard for Congress to serve it’s purpose of oversight when it’s left in the dark.  How does the Congress oversee an agency whose practice is to control info and keep it secret?  The only reason we see this info now is because there was a change in CIA leadership and the new guy didn’t want to get in trouble for the wrongdoings of the previous leadership.  However, even he didn’t know about this CIA program even after being head of the CIA for several months.   It was a secret even from him.  The CIA even lacks clear internal oversight.

A Nuremberg for Guantánamo

AT the end of World War II, the Allied powers found themselves in charge of thousands of captured enemies, many of whom had committed unspeakable crimes. Some among the victors thought that the prisoners should simply be shot. Others, including many in the American government, steadfastly insisted that these men should be subjected to criminal proceedings. Thus the Nuremberg trials were born, tribunals that meted out justice for some of the 20th century’s worst atrocities while demonstrating the return of the rule of law on the European continent and the superiority of democratic values over Fascist lunacies.


An international criminal tribunal would not answer all the legal questions surrounding the war on terrorism. But by putting its faith in the law, the Obama administration would send a potent message to both its supporters and its enemies. By giving a fair trial to the Guantánamo detainees, the United States would reassert its core values and demonstrate the supremacy of those values over the evil that has been challenging them.

Oh, what a lovely dream!  An America dedicating itself to justice, civil rights, and faith in the law… could such a thing be possible!?!

Sadly, there is a reason the US government doesn’t want to support international military tribunals.  There are many people of many countries (including politicians and leaders) who would like to see a number of Americans sent to trial for war crimes.  If we decided to subject citizens of other countries to fair trials, that might just lead to other countries demanding the same in return.  That is a can of worms that even Obama wouldn’t want to open.

Priority Test: Health Care or Prisons?

The United States is anomalous among industrialized countries in the high proportion of people we incarcerate; likewise, we stand out in the high proportion of people who have no medical care — and partly as a result, our health care outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality are unusually poor.

Choices always have to  be made about how limited money is spent.  For that very reason, the way America spends it’s money seems bassackwards.  Even if you assume that even the majority of criminals (who, by the way, are non-violent) can’t be rehabilitated, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend the money on people you can help?

¶The United States incarcerates people at nearly five times the world average. Of those sentenced to state prisons, 82 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes, according to one study.

¶California spends $216,000 annually on each inmate in the juvenile justice system. In contrast, it spends only $8,000 on each child attending the troubled Oakland public school system, according to the Urban Strategies Council.

¶For most of American history, we had incarceration rates similar to those in other countries. Then with the “war on drugs” and the focus on law and order in the 1970s, incarceration rates soared.

¶One in 10 black men ages 25 to 29 were imprisoned last year, partly because possession of crack cocaine (disproportionately used in black communities) draws sentences equivalent to having 100 times as much powder cocaine. Black men in the United States have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives, according to the Sentencing Project.

I like statistics.  Nothing like facts to put ideology in its place.

Indeed, education spending may reduce the need for incarceration. The evidence on this isn’t conclusive, but it’s noteworthy that graduates of the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, an intensive effort for disadvantaged children in the 1960s, were some 40 percent less likely to be arrested than those in a control group.

Above all, it’s time for a rethink of our drug policy. The point is not to surrender to narcotics, but to learn from our approach to both tobacco and alcohol. Over time, we have developed public health strategies that have been quite successful in reducing the harm from smoking and drinking.

If we want to try a public health approach to drugs, we could learn from Portugal. In 2001, it decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use. Ordinary drug users can still be required to participate in a treatment program, but they are no longer dispatched to jail.

“Decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal,” notes a report this year from the Cato Institute. It notes that drug use appears to be lower in Portugal than in most other European countries, and that Portuguese public opinion is strongly behind this approach.

For many many reasons, punishment just isn’t a very effective method.  To put it in laymen’s terms, it doesn’t give you much bang for your buck.  Besides, for a supposed Christian nation, we seem a little too much in love with punishment.  If Jesus was here, he wouldn’t approve.

“There are only two possibilities here,” Mr. Webb said in introducing his bill, noting that America imprisons so many more people than other countries. “Either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States, or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”

It makes me happy when someone states the obvious.

Obama Calls Health Plan a ‘Moral Obligation’

“These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear,” he said. “That was true in the debate over Social Security, when F.D.R. was accused of being a socialist. That was true when J.F.K. and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare. And it’s true in this debate today.”

Hope and fear may not be the best way to put it, but it’s not entirely inaccurate.  Research shows that liberals and conservatives tend to be of two distinct personality types (Ernest Hartmann’s thin vs thick boundaries, Myers-Briggs’ Sensation vs iNtuition functions, etc.).

Conservatives ‘fear’ change because they tend to want the world to stay the same or else to return to some idyllic past.  Conservatives are interested in the concrete reality of the present which is built on a sense of continuity with the past.  They’re more comfortable with what is familiar.

Conservatives seem to be more pessimistic.  Research shows that pessimists have a more realistic grasp of the way things actually are, but because of this they tend to get stuck in whatever situation they find themselves in.  Another positive of pessimism is that it allows the acceptance of (even maybe necessitates the expectation of) human failure.  At its best, this can be a very compassionate attitude.  But the dark side is that if people can’t change you might as well just punish them and lock them away instead of trying to rehabilitate them.

Liberals ‘hope’ for change because they tend to want improvement and progress.  Liberals are interested in imagined possibilities that even though not entirely real in the present have the potential to be real in the future.  They’re more open to new experiences.

Liberals seem to be more optimistic.  Research shows that optimists have less realistic grasp of the way things actually are, but because of this they tend not to get stuck in whatever situation they find themselves in.  Another positive of optimism is that it allows for hope and even determination… no matter how often people fail, there is always potential (many successes only come after hundreds of failed attempts).  At its best, this can be a very compassionate attitude.  But the dark side is that if people are unable or feel unable to change unrealistic expectations are unhelpful and possibly dangerous such as if unrehabilitated criminals are released.

Even though the two attitudes balance eachother, America has always been a country of hope.  If there is any single defining ideal of America, it is definitely the ideal of hope.  At the same time, America’s being a young and less stable (or more dynamic if you prefer) country contributes to a constant fear of what we’re collectively becoming.

Comment on Freed “Terrorists”

Here is my comment of this NY Times article:

Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees, by Elisabeth Bumiller

Of course, the obvious response is that this is a surprisingly low number. 

If these were actually all dangerous committed terrorists, then I’d expect the majority of them would return to being a terrorist.  It’s surprising that round 84% stop being terrorists.  It makes me wonder that maybe they never were terrorists in the first place. 

A better statistic to know would be how many people who weren’t terrorists before being imprisoned became terrorists after release.  Another useful statistic would be how many Iraqis who supported the US before the occupation became terrorists afterwards.

Other people’s comments:

Why is this surprising? Of course, people committed to a war would rejoin. Look at what our escaped or returned POW’s did during U.S. wars.

— Theron, Racine, WI

Less then the recidivism rate for US convicts being released from prison.

— David, Tn

Well, why would you not…if you had been tortured and treated like a dog? How could that not make you want to fight back? We bred this resistance and created terrorists even where there were none – Remember the rage and fight we all had in us after 9/11? Now multiply that feeling by 1,000 – and perhaps that is getting close to the rage and anger they must feel leaving Guantanamo after their lives, their dignity, their human and legal rights, and sometimes their families were stripped of them?

It is a terrible dilemma now what to do with these men – as I believe this statistic – but at the same time, we can only blame ourselves – and hope and pray that in the future we will maintain more dignity ourselves and hold ourselves to a higher moral standard – to prove them wrong – rather than proving them right – about our being worthy of the fight.

— Jennifer K, Providence, RI

How can you “return” to terrorism if you were never a terrorist in the first place? The people who were released from Guantanamo were never charged, tried or convicted of anything. Why? No evidence they did anything.

— Puzzled, Palm Coast, FL

This is a very misleading headline. And just what constitutes “returning” to terrorism. It is reported elsewhere that some in this count simply appeared in videos or condemned the US during interviews. If the majority counted cannot be verified then the statistic is suspect. You should have reported more honestly. Sounds like you have an axe to grind.

— tarry davis, norfolk, virginia

Really “returned?” That is agreeing with the last admin that they all ARE terrorists. Why not check our if some (or many…) only became militant AFTER what the stay in gtmo did to them…?

— rsb, Switzerland

Unreleased, unsubstantiated and anonymous report from an unnamed agency. Now this is the kind of information that anyone can use to make a rational decision about unproven and not made charges. After these people have been imprisoned and tortured without any due process why would these men become terrorists? Whoa that’s a tough one.

— HR Holmes, Ft Lauderdale

What is the big surprise ? Was someone expecting them to all go home and play scrabble ? This is silly to be talking about. Of course your going to have some of them returning to active military activities. Just deal with it and close Guantanamo Bay anyway. It is a disgrace to the values and principals of America.

— John Hartman, Bristol, Connecticut

Is the Pentagon admitting they released people they knew to be terrorists or dangerous to US troops? Or is the Pentagon saying they released people they didn’t
really know anything about, people who hadn’t been properly vetted before being transferred to Guantanamo and whom they determined, through illegal and flawed interrogations and with very little hard evidence, one way or the other, to be of no significant danger to the United States or our allies?

During and after the attack on Afghanistan by United States forces, a net was cast that caught all sorts of fish – Taliban soldiers and supporters of the Taliban government, ordinary Afghanistan civilians, travelers, humantiarian workers, government officials, members of Al Qaeda, people employed by Al Quada, mercenaries, soldiers and supporters of the Northern Allience, etc. Instead of properly vetting these people and releasing those who weren’t combatants, declaring the remainder to be prisoners of war, they were denied the protections of the Geneva Conventions and transferred to Guantanamo to undergo interrogations. In some cases, these interrogations involved techniques which were cruel, inhumane, abusive and humiliating. Techniques which are notoriously unreliable.

The claim that 1 in 7 released detainees “returned to terrorism” has no merit. Instead of trying to justify, support and continue inept and illegal methods of fighting the so-called “war on terrorism”, the Pentagon should admit that it has made huge mistakes – illegal arbitrary detention, illegal classifications, illegal interrogation practices – and learn from them. Making restitution to those it has wronged and making sure all their policies and actions adhere to the laws of the Geneva Conventions would be a good place to start.

For those still detained, either charge them with crimes and give them fair and impartial trials – “fair and impartial” being defined by international laws and standards – or let them go. If they cannot be released to their prior countries of citizenship or residence due to the danger of being unfairly jailed, tortured or killed, and no other country will take them, they must be released into the United States. That is not to say there cannot be stipulations to those releases, but released they must be. To continue to hold these people indefinitely is a continuation of the United States government’s lawlessness through violations against the Constitution of the United States, US Federal laws and
international laws.

— Mary Ellen Crowley, Waldoboro, ME

Recent statistics on recividism rates in the US: “67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983”

Why don’t we just keep everybody in jail forever? That would prevent crime, only, we’d soon run out of enough people on the outside to watch over (and feed/clothe) those on the inside. It’s time to get this debacle behind us. Hurry up and try them, convict them if they’re guilty, and release the innocent who were picked up in mass sweeps. If some of them go back to the fight, so be it. That’s the price we pay for Bush’s folly.

— Tokyo2nite, Japan

My understanding is that this number has been changed by the Pentagon over fifty times. One in seven? How about a little investigation as to why this number is continually changing (for the worse)? I for one would really appreciate that.

— Alvin, Columbia, SC

Isn’t it really time that respectable media outlets define the word “terror” before they parrot the term in ways that are clearly meant to manipulate the masses?

— TJ, Arkansas

If 1 out of 7 is seen as a high enough ratio to warrant the prolonged imprisonment of people without charging them, I have an idea!

Let’s throw every Bush administration official in prison for 4 or 5 years, whether or not we can find anything on them — I’ve got $20 that says at least 1 in 7 violated some law during the past 8 years.

— TJ, Arkansas