Archive for November, 2008

Close Gitmo? Doubts Continue to Surface

November 30, 2008

In a syndicated column that ran on November 28, Dan Rather postulated that “Undoing Guantanamo will be Tricky.” While not news to those who follow this space or have read my new book Inside Gitmo, expressing such thoughts displays a growing sense of uncertainty from a segment of the political spectrum that prior to November 5 was in lockstep for immediate closure. The stark fact may be sinking in: On the afternoon of January 20, Guantanamo belongs to Mr. Obama.

Sullying Rather’s otherwise balanced piece is this segment: “…the treatment of those captured by the U.S. has been, from the beginning, so far out of line with constitutional norms — including torture…” As has a former president who Rather admires, Jimmy Carter, both men assume the worse of America and American service members. In his 2006 interview with Der Spiegel, Carter agreed with the interviewer that Americans were torturing detainees. “When we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo,” he said, then essentially the world is justified in condemning the United States.

Setting aside the issue of torture and abuse, thoroughly addressed in Inside Gitmo, the most pressing issue facing Obama is disposition. As Rather correctly points out, “the central problem is not the prison itself or where it is located, but the rules that govern the fate of its inmates.”

One burning issue is if these detainees are to be brought to trial, then when, where, and under what code? Rather alludes to this issue, and points to at least one sticking point. Time. “Some sort of further modified court system will probably have to be developed, perhaps hewing closer to the civilian model but with allowances made for the extraordinary nature of these prisoners. That will take legislation — and legislative energy from an Obama team already facing an extraordinary set of challenges at home and abroad.” If, and we are already seeing signs that Joe Biden’s prediction of enemies testing Obama is happening even before he assumes office, higher, more urgent priorities dominate the administration’s early days, then simply “closing Gimto” is going to be a huge challenge.

Attempting to get enabling legislation passed in a time of financial and likely international crisis is going to be a more thorny issue than either the Obama team or an activist Congress will be able to tackle. Rather laments that action must happen quickly if the new president “is to make good on that campaign pledge.”

Sensing growing disenchantment from a base that expected the sweeping change and swift action promised during the campaign, it is probable that Obama will make a gesture toward closure, but with the pragmatism he appears to be exhibiting in these early days, is likely to push ultimate resolution out a year or longer.

It will be interesting to follow commentators like Rather and watch how long their patience lasts when a President Obama is forced to deal with situational realities that candidate Obama was able to brush breezily aside.

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Close Gitmo? Interesting Statistics

November 29, 2008

With all the talk about “closing Gitmo” from president-elect Obama, to Senator McCain, even including SecDef Bob Gates, President Bush, many Congress members, most of the media, and a preponderance of European sources and activist human rights organizations, it is natural to think that this idea has the support of most Americans.

Guess what? I was shocked to see that according to a late Quinnipiac poll 44% of Americas are AGAINST closure. A large percentage – 27% – are undecided, and a rather small percentage, less than a third, favor immediate closure of the facility.

We are already seeing Senators and Representatives from areas as widespread as Colorado, Kansas, South Carolina, and California speak out against relocating detainees to their home turf. You will find some of their comments on earlier blog posts.

And no wonder.

Those of us who are following these things have noted repeatedly suicide attacks against detention facilities in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq intended to cause chaos and free detainees. In several locales escapes and breakouts have resulted in thousands of hard-core terrorists rejoining the fight.

Add to this already volatile mix the unsettling prospect of demonstrations, constant legal wrangling, and additional international criticism regardless of where these men are confined and it is clear to see why people are against the idea of having detainees moved into their neighborhoods.

Even pro-closure advocate Senator Diane Feinstein (D, CA) is now saying that it will take “up to a year” to resolve the complex Guantanamo issue.

Glib promises that fall off the tongue easily during heated campaigns often run into a brick wall of reality when it comes time for implementation. It will likely be the same with Guantanamo. I expect Congressional debate and hearing to take place after Obama makes his announcement.

Let us work to have unemotional, rational debate over ultimate disposition of these detainees and not rush into a situation decided in haste and regretted at leisure. One way to become an informed citizen about this critical issue is to read my book Inside Gitmo. You can pre-order off the web site here today. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity.

Senator David Vitter Introduces Bill: No Detainees in US

November 28, 2008

A quote from Senator David Vitter (R, LA) on his web site:

U.S. Sen. David Vitter this week introduced the “Protection from Enemy Combatants Act,” a bill that would prevent any detainee from Guantanamo Bay from being admitted into the United States.

“I think all can agree that it would not be in the best interests of U.S. national security to release from Cuba detainees suspected of engaging in terrorist activities and allow them to enter the United States,” said Vitter.  “This is absolutely a path that we should not tread.  The detainees at Guantanamo are housed there because they represent a terrorist threat to America and, as activist judges continue to usurp our security measures through the judicial processes, we should lay the groundwork now to ensure that these individuals are not allowed to enter the United States.”

Vitter’s bill provides that no court of the United States may order the release or parole into America of any alien detained as an enemy combatant by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, except in the instance that the President determines that the waiver of such a restriction meets is consistent with matters of national security.

“As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus, I am gravely concerned with preventing illegal aliens from entering the U.S., specifically in those instances where the individuals were, and will likely remain, a threat to homeland security,” Vitter said.  “We most certainly do not want a policy where we legally admit terrorists, or suspected terrorists, into our country.  This legislation would prevent that.”

In the 110th Congress, the Senate has already passed a similar, non-binding Sense of the Senate Resolution by a vote of 97-3 in favor of preventing Guantanamo detainees from being transferred to facilities in the United States.

Congressman Against Relocating Guantanamo Detainees in US

November 28, 2008

Yet another elected representative has joined the ranks of Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Nancy Boyda of Kansas, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, and Congressman Henry Brown of South Carolina, and others, who are appalled at the idea of relocating Guantanamo detainees to their home districts.

Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn has stated emphatically that “There are some people here who are bent on destroying our way of life,” Lamborn said in a phone interview, with reporter Tom Roeder of the Colorado Springs Gazette. Lamborn made the remarks during a recent visit to the Guantanamo detention facility.

In summer 2007 the US Senate passed a non-binding resolution 94-3 (definitely bipartisan!) that stated that it was the sense of the Senate not to relocate detainees in the US. If the upcoming Obama administration decides to close the camp and relocate detainees to the US it could be the cause of a bitter intra-party fight.

Quoting Roeder’s article: “Lamborn fears they’ll set their sights on Florence and the prison where a number of convicted terrorists, including Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, are incarcerated.

‘I don’t want that happening under any circumstance,’ Lamborn said.”

If this potential move becomes a possibility expect severe resistance from Congress, local media, and the communities that might be affected.

Where Has She Been?

November 26, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle’s Rachel Gordon reports today that Senator Diane Feinstein wants Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility closed “within a year.” That comes as no big surprise as everyone in the Democrat Party including the president-elect has said similar things. The year-long delay is interesting in that pervious calls for closure have been more of the close-it-immediately variety. Perhaps the reality of the complexity of issues associated with closure are beginning to take hold now that the Democrats will shortly “own” Guantanamo.

Feinstein continues though to express concerns about things that either are happening or seem benign. She wants a prohibition of government contractors from interrogating detainees. This seems odd in that because of defense budget shortfalls – imposed in large part by cuts from Feinstein and her like-minded colleagues the military does not have an available pool of qualified interrogators on hand. Supervised contractors – as is presently the case – conduct many of the interrogations simply because uniformed interrogators don’t exist in sufficient quantity to supply needs in Guantanamo and military theaters.

Another complaint that Feinstein voiced was that the Red Cross needs to have access to detainees. This is puzzling in that the ICRC has had a permanent presence at Guantanamo for several years and has a representative stationed at the facility who is granted unlimited access to grounds and detainees. Perhaps she is referring to the American Red Cross, although one wonders why that institution would be involved at all.

Further Feinstein wishes for use of torture to be outlawed “once and for all,” yet this was accomplished by US Code Title 18 January 3, 2007. Senator Feinstein voted to support this bill into law. Has she forgotten?

What makes statements like Feinstein’s particularly annoying is that she – through feigned or actual ignorance – continues to propagate myths that the US routinely engages in torture and that torture occurs at Guantanamo. It is long past time that partisan lawmakers cease such hyperbolic posturing and focus instead on the genuine, troubling issues that must be solved prior to closure of Guantanamo in a manner that supports US security interests.

What will they know; when will they know it?

November 25, 2008

While senator, president-elect Obama had little exposure to intelligence matters. This was by his choice, for he was member of intelligence-related committees and had access. He was running openly for higher office and spent precious little time in the Senate that was not devoted to constructing a support base or building alliances. This is not a criticism necessarily, just a fact. That he won the election handily, defeating the candidate of conventional wisdom, Hillary Clinton, along the way, points out the efficacy of his strategy.

Now, however, that the need for political maneuvering is somewhat past (inside the Beltway, maneuvering is ceaseless), the president-elect and his staff are being splashed with the cold water of reality from the intel community.

While much of that classified material is global in nature, one specific collection of secret intelligence information currently resides among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the facility that Obama has pledged repeatedly to close promptly.

Pointing out some of the issues involved with precipitate closure,Thomas Joscelyn wrote an excellent summary article in the Weekly Standard titled “Clear and Present Danger: The Obama administration is about to discover that the terrorists detained at Guantánamo are there for good reason.” (Hat tip to the great talk radio host and pal Greg Allen.)

Even if, as most of us expect, Obama makes closure of Gitmo one of his first post-inaugural announcements, the full weight of that decision is likely to come crashing down when he is exposed to the nature of the 250 or so detainees still held there.

He will learn of terrorist masterminds like Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Ramzi bin Alsheb, money launderers, al Qaeda recruiters, bomb makers, propagandists, organizers, personal bodyguards for Usama bin Laden, key Taliban leaders, and muscle terrorists who made their bones in Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans, and Western Europe. The information will come as a rude awakening to members of his staff who may have breezily thought that such hard-core, committed jihadists could be released into the US or freed abroad.

Nor will the prospect of “quick trials” in the US criminal justice system be sufficient solution. Because of the difficulty in obtaining proper – by high US court standards – evidentiary material off the battlefield, it may be impossible to build a proper criminal case against some of these men. A further complication is that many are being held because of information obtained from highly classified sources. Disclosure of this material and ultimate compromise of the sources would be necessary in the type of criminal justice system currently in place.

Other concerns such as indefinite detention, relocation and housing either to a US facility or another place entirely, and ultimately being able to deal comfortably with international criticism, are part of the package.

Like it or not, it is about to become Mr. Obama’s Guantanamo, will all the unresolved problems that implies.

Inside Gitmo Discussion Groups

November 24, 2008

We recently added a Guantanamo discussion group to the Inside Gitmo web site. Lawmakers, journalists, students, and concerned citizens are invited to join.

Unlike some of the  “hit-and-run” style forums far too prevalent on the Net, what we encourage by email participation is civil interaction, rational discussion, and an exchange of ideas free of profanity, personal attacks, and vicious comments.

As stated repeatedly in my book Inside Gitmo, the over-heated, emotional response to many concerning Guantanamo – detractors and supporters alike – has made public discussion near impossible in many places, including a lot of media outlets.

What we are attempting to do here is focus discussion on real issues; problems that affect not only Guantanamo but much of the way our country is structured. For example, some call for a “new code of laws and procedures” to deal with detainees. What will this look like? And is it wise?

Others demand instant release or trial in the US criminal justice system. Is this feasible?

What about release? Some judges have already demanded that the military release detainees into the United States. This is an important – perhaps life-threatening – concern that must be rationally debated.

So I encourage you to join the discussion group, express opinions, present facts, and, for all concerned, keep the tone and commentary at the high level that the simple rules demand.

Look forward to seeing you in the group!

Be Careful What You Wish For

November 23, 2008

Everyone is convinced that shortly after inauguration president-elect Barak Obama will announce closure of Guantanamo Bay detention facilities. “Close Gitmo” has been a recurring campaign theme and one that significant parts of the disparate base that makes up Democrat Party supporters has long lobbied for. Activist groups like the ACLU, National Trial Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and others have pressed since inception for closure and freedom of the detainees.

Recent court rulings indicate a strong possibility that the men may be relocated to US soil and tried in the criminal justice system. Because of lack of evidentiary standards required to convict in US courts there is a better than fair chance that many will be acquitted and released. Some may be repatriated, others, as indicated by federal Judge Ricardo Urbina’s ruling this October, may be set free inside the US.

Carol Rosenberg, in a Miami Herald report datelined Guantanamo says that detainees appear to be gleeful about their prospects for relocation. “On Election Night,” she quotes a cultural interpreter named, “the results swept through the camps so swiftly the captives were chanting `’Obama, Obama, Obama’.”

Detainee expectations of a better life away from Guantanamo are certain to be shattered if they are relocated to any US prison system. Locations like California (Camp Pendelton), Kansas (Ft. Leavenworth), and South Carolina (Charleston Navy Yard) are under active consideration, to the consternation of local residents and politicians.

In a severely depressed economy one must also question the wisdom of abandoning a hundred-million dollar facility already constructed in order to relocate detainees to the US where at the least, expensive modifications or new construction would be required to house them adequately. If present facilities are used the laundry-list of issues range from mixing populations, to formulating a new legal system to process them, to probably demonstrations and attacks on the site to free them.

From a standard of living perspective there is no way that any of these facilities are able to house, care for, and secure the detainees in the manner in which they are now housed at Guantanamo. Despite hyperbolic statements to the contrary, Guantanamo detainees are fed halal food at the rate of 4,200 calories daily including special meals, average 4 medical visits per month (the average American male sees a doctor 3.7 times annually), and have access to extensive library facilities (in the vernacular) and special programs that include art and movies.

Kiss that lifestyle goodby in a US prison. Reports from California detail unspeakable, almost Dickensian conditions for criminal prisoners: months-long waits to see a mental health professional, suicide risks confined for 48 hours or longer in telephone-booth-sized cages, rampant infectious diseases among inmates, and barely adequate food and exercise conditions. Welcome to America, might become abandon hope all ye who enter, for these 250 or so detainees who may be dropped into a harsh dose of reality inside the wire of a standard American prison.

It’s Al Qaeda, not the Taliban

November 21, 2008

One puzzling error repeatedly made by media is their continual referral to John Walker Lindh as “the American Taliban” and David Hicks as “the Australian Taliban.” The only reason I can think for this misreporting is that they don’t really understand the dynamics of pre-Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan. Or, perhaps, it just sounds cooler to them.

In fact, the difference is easy to define: The Taliban are an indigenous, all-Afghani movement. Taliban fighters are recruited or impressed into service from the local populations. Al Qaeda is an international terrorist movement that draws fighters from the global community. Whenever Afghanis refer to a fighter as “foreign” or “Arab” they speak of imported al Qaeda operatives. When captured al Qaeda fighters refer disparagingly to another fighter as “dumb,” “ignorant,” or use a racial slur, they refer to Taliban.

Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan during the early days came from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, North Africa and the Horn, Europe, the U.S., Australia, the Middle East, Russia, China, and every country whose name ends in “stan.” And this is just a partial list.

There is little love lost between the two elements. They will band together to fight a common enemy, but otherwise tolerate each other’s presence.

Lindh and Hicks were pure al Qaeda. They each went through a period of conversion to Islam, radicalization, and ultimately commitment to jihad as a way of life. Separately they were offered an opportunity to participate in “martyrdom” missions – suicide operations – and they each declined. While cowering in the depths of icy, filthy water under assault by Northern Alliance forces at Qala-i-Jangi, Lindh reportedly tried to dissuade his fellow fighters from killing themselves, quoting the Koran’s imprecations against suicide.

Both Hicks and Lindh trained extensively at al Qaeda camps like al Farouk and Tarnak Farms and each pledged fealty or bayat to Usama bin Laden personally. They volunteered to translate al Qaeda training material into English for the use on training non-Arabic speaking recruits. They both took up arms under orders from al Qaeda leaders – not Taliban – and fought against Northern Alliance and Coalition forces.

So what’s the big deal?

Essentially nearing a decade post-9/11 and we – certainly the media – still does not recognize the enemy sworn to our destruction as a country and as a civilization. These seemingly little points of distinction – caused by confusion, both intentional and ignorant – are essential to our ability to fight against and defeat this enemy. This continued intellectual ignorance hampers efforts to educate the American people on the reality of the struggle and stands in the way of ultimate success.

Get the full story on Hicks (and a great deal on Lindh) in my book Inside Gitmo.

Restrictions Relaxed on David Hicks

November 20, 2008

Known as the Australian Taliban, David Hicks, like John Walker Lindh would be more properly identified as the Australian al Qaeda. Unlike Walker who was radicalized and went straight to Afghanistan, Hicks’s path to terrorism took him through Kosovo, Pakistan, and ultimately Usama bin Laden’s al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Hicks worked a plea bargain deal to gain transfer to his home country, ultimately pleading guilty to “providing material support for terrorism.”

The only detainee of European descent, Hicks was initially despised in Australia. After several years of steady propaganda on his behalf by groups such as Fair Play for David, he achieved minor rock star status among many Australians. One suspects that anti-George Bush, anti-War in Iraq sentiment contributed heavily to Hicks improved image.

When the gag order on Hicks is lifted – probably within a few months – we ought to be on the lookout for a ghost-written kiss-and-tell book by Hicks complete with lurid tales of his detention at Guantanamo.

While there Hicks was initially admired by Muslim detainees and called “The Australian Cowboy.” He lost status among his fellow detainees when he appeared to be an apostate, requesting and receiving a Bible and renouncing his Islamic faith.

With Hicks, unlike Walker, it was never purely about religion. He seemed to be an anti-social misfit who drifted into terrorism for the adventure and the daring, much like young disaffected men are drawn to violent crime.

Read more about David Hicks in Inside Gitmo, and in the article updating his status, Australia Lifts Controls on Former Guantanamo Convict.