To build on Daphne’s post about bogus numbers of terrorist Guantanamo parolees, The New York Times carries a kind of silly story about a former Guantanamo detainee turned Yemen-based Al Qaeda terrorist. If the story was merely an exploration of this former detainee, there wouldn’t be any problem. But it carries this gloss:
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
If Obama’s executive order had been to let all the Guantanamo detainees go free, then this point would probably stand. But that’s not at all what the order says.
It directs a screening process to determine which detainees ought to be released; which ought to be repatriated to their home countries’ legal systems; which ought to be sent to a third-party country’s legal system; and which ought to be prosecuted by the United States. Admittedly, no screening process can eliminate with 100 percent certainty the possibility that a dangerous man will be released. But there’s recidivism in the U.S. prison system as well, and no one considers that an argument for indefinite detention.
The Times piece notes that Republican House members intend to demagogue the issue, continuing to describe the detainees as the worst-of-the-worst, which is not and has never been true. (The real worst-of-the-worst were detained in secret prisons run by the CIA or foreign intelligence partners.) National Journal in 2006 ran perhaps the most comprehensive study of the Guantanamo population and concluded that “Much of the evidence against the detainees is weak.”
No one should expect a demagogue to be swayed by the facts. But the truth of the matter is that just as not all of the Guantanamo detainees are guilty, not all of them are innocent, either, and so a process to cull one from the other is the appropriate way to proceed. What isn’t ever appropriate, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, is to hold them indefinitely and without due process, and the presence of a former detainee in a terrorist group doesn’t change that.
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