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February 10, 2006

Who's at Gitmo?

Jeralyn at TalkLeft points to a fascinating study led by Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall Law School. Denbeaux and his colleagues analyzed the summaries of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) for over 500 detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base.* (Original report available in .pdf)

CSRT documents summarize the evidence that the government said it used to designate the as an enemy combatant. Denbaux's study confirms that the threshold for EC status is incredibly low:

  • 55% did not commit any hostile act against the United States or its coalition allies
  • Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban
  • The majority of detainees are not alleged to have committed hostile acts. These prisoners are being held because of alleged associations with terrorist organizations
  • Some are being detained for being "associated" with groups that don't even appear on the DHS watchlist of terrorist organizations
  • "Association" covers a wide range of alleged involvements: “fighters for" (8%), “members of" (30%), by far the most common designation was "associated with" which could mean as little as having spoken to a member of Al Qaeda (60%), Two percent of the detainees who were designated EC for a nexus of involvement with a terrorist organization didn't even make the "associated with" standard.**

By and large, the Gitmo detainees aren't even alleged to have been high-level Taliban leaders or al Qaeda operatives. Far from being uniformly the worst of the worst, most of the detainees at Gitmo haven't even been shown to be enemies, let alone combatants.

Hat tip to Brad Plumer.

*Of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, 180 have been released and 76 to other countries. Many of the prisoners detained on the scantiest evidence remain in custody.

**Update: I combined the last two bullet points in the list and changed the wording slightly for clarity.


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Good afternoon Lindsay:
Thad’s reply to my last post is a perfect example of why I don’t want to get into a free for all with your readers. They are just wound too tight. If anyone’s head is about to explode, I think it might be his.
What this seems to boil down to is that you don’t approve of the reasons for holding some of the detainees. Neither do the anti-American liberals who have authored the articles that have been quoted to me.
Given that the underlying themes of so much of what’s presented on this blog seem to be “Republicans are evil” and “America is always wrong”, why should I trust your judgement as to who it is proper for the United States to detain over the judgement of those who are actually responsible for fighting the war?
I can’t think of any reason.
As I said before, the entire civilized world is at war with the forces of barbarism. The worldwide “cartoon riots” seem to be waking some folks up to that fact. Everyone has to choose which side they’re on. I am on the side of my country, the USA and if I have to choose between giving my guys the benefit of the doubt versus an enemy as savage as any we’ve ever faced, I know which side I’m going to come down on.
Have a good weekend.

No, Steve, I don't approve of locking people up indefinitely for no reason and calling it counter-terrorism. That's what police states do.

America is a great democracy. Criticizing the government doesn't make you unpatriotic. On the contrary. It's un-American to say that anything our guys do is okay because they're our guys. That's barbaric.


The fact that people are being improperly labeled "enemy combatants" and held without trial isn't just Lindsay's opinion. It's a conclusion that any reasonable person might draw from the data compiled in the study she cites.

If you have a problem with the way the study was conducted, let us know what that problem is. If you think it's proper to label people as enemy combatants and throw them in prison indefinitely, even though they have no discernable connection to our enemies, then just say that. But don't insult everybody here just because they don't buy into your Manichean worldview.

By the way, I happened to post about those who would have us join the anti-Islamic tribe for the big showdown on my new blog here.

New blog! Woo!

why should I trust your judgement as to who it is proper for the United States to detain over the judgement of those who are actually responsible for fighting the war?

Posted by: Steve | February 10, 2006 at 05:28 PM

I am sorry. I tought we have a system, a seperatin of power, Who got to judge, who get to make law and who got to carry out those laws.

NOBODY is giving Bush the RIGHT to be judge, executor, and war generals at the same time. (so much for 'strick constructionist BS' republicans like to trot out.

The question is pretty basic: Does a person have the right to trial? IS the punishment equal to his misdeed, DOES Bush make a competent judge. DOES HE LIE and makes stuff up? Does he have record of messing up then trying to hide it with bombast claim?

so much for 'libertarian' free thinking republican.

Neither do the anti-American liberals who have authored the articles that have been quoted to me.

I wasn't aware that the Defense Department (from whence this data comes) was staffed entirely by anti-American liberals.

I thought Steve was supposed to be the true patriot, here? Why's he casting such aspersions on the DoD?

The answer's obvious, Thad. For Steve and his ilk, everything the United States does iis automatically bad bad bad - but if you're someone who conspires to slaughter Americans, you're just "misunderstood."

It'd be funny if the issue weren't so deadly serious. I, for one, have had enough of Steve's "blame America first" nonsense!

Heh. Indeed.

Also, seven more detainees were released today, after being imprisoned for more than three years, without ever having beeing charged with any crime.

If these guys are all terrorists hell-bent on our destruction, why are we just letting them go? And if they were wrongly imprisoned, why'd it take so long for them to be freed?


While I don't think those seven were terrorists, I'm pretty sure this guy was guilty. Juvenile delinquent.

>an enemy as savage as any we’ve ever faced,

Steve, I think you've been very clear on your position. You earlier bemoaned the fact that you couldn't have had all the detainees simply murdered out of hand, and that we had to do something with these "enemy combatants" (though, as many have mentioned, you present no evidence whatever that they _are_ enemy combatants, besides their incarceration, which Lindsay here shows to be unjustified in so many cases), so for you, incarcerating these people, innocent or not, in Guantanamo is "necessary."

This, although even you allowed, in the other thread, that some of them might be innocent. We feel that such murder, or the detaining of scores of innocent people with no grounds aside from their religion, is not only un-American, but is exactly the savagery we should be fighting. If you're arguing that we should become savage, lawless murderers because we're facing savage, lawless murderers, well--we simply disagree. You apparently propose that any bystander in a war zone should be liable to murder, whether a combatant or not, merely on suspicion because of their proximity to war, or their religion or ethnicity. We disagree. We feel this is savage. We also feel that this is an insult to the soldiers that we know, who signed up to defend the right, not to do the things that you're suggesting.

You also feel that such bystanders should be swept into prison, with little oversight or attention paid to their innocence or guilt, for indefinite periods of years on end, because of their proximity to war, or their religion or ethnicity. We disagree with this also.

I think that Thad's logic in his last post is unassailable as well. If they are terrorists, why are we letting them go? And if they were wrongly imprisoned, why did it take so long for them to be freed?

We simply have different visions of America. We will never agree that President Bush's laxly allowing thousands of people to die is "gracious and dignified." If I'm ever drowning, or for that matter, if you are, I hope there's someone with less grace and dignity, who'll get off his pampered rear end and save us from drowning. You, as a libertarian who believes allowing Michael Brown to run the Katrina fiasco was a graceful decision, presumably feel that emergency services shouldn't be paid for from your own pocket. This is the Ebenezer Scrooge argument: "if they be like to die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Most people agree that an efficient Federal Emergency Management Agency, like the one that helped us after the Northridge Earthquake in 1992, is well worth the few dollars we pull out of our tight asses. Not many people will ever agree with your views on letting the poor die in a Katrina because they can't afford a car or hotel, or letting innocent bystanders get swept up in police dragnets and letting them rot in prison because they live in Afghanistan and have a beard. Thank God.

Steve, now tell us how mass incarcaration and short-circuited due process is bringing democracy to Iraq.

Sorry guys, I'm re-reading Lindsays statistics and I have to say I'm still unimpressed.
The way I read those statistics, 98% of those held have an association with terror, 2% Do not. That doesn't seem like such a bad average for wartime. It might not seem that good if you're one of the 2% but war is hell.
What you seem to be arguing is that in many cases the connection to terror is too tenuous to justify holding someone but I disagree.
You liberals claim to have the big brains, put those giant noggins to work and try to imagine a reason why we might want to hold a person who is not an actual terrorist but has an association with terrorists. The first thing that comes to my mind is that a person might have valuable intelligence. That might not justify locking someone up during peace but during war the innocent lives saved (and the guilty lives ended) might just outweigh the perceived injustice.
Let me just lay my cards on the table:
To put it plainly, you folks and your spiritual kin have done everything within your power to undermine the war effort since day one and in fact deny that the war on terror even exists so I have no reason to trust your judgement as to who should be detained over the judgement of the people who are actually fighting (and winning the war and who have managed to prevent another attack (knock on wood) for over four years.
"America is a great democracy" is a very nice thing to say and it also the very first time that I've ever seen a word of praise from Lindsay for the USA. I'm glad I could pry that out of her.
However, the praise from you guys always seems to be followed by a "but". In your case the "but" always comes down to "but America is always wrong and I will side with anyone against America" or "but it's leaders are the spawn of the ninth circle of hell" or "but America's people are a bunch of rubes, rednecks and bigots"
Your behavior in the last four plus years has simply destroyed any credibility that you ever had on matters of national security.
So thank you very much but when I want to learn about how wars are fought and won, I'll continue to go elsewhere.

Steve, here's the original passage from the report. It wasn't clear from my bullet point breakdown, but the 2% refers to 2% of the detainees who are being held purely for association and not for hostile acts.

The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed “fighters for;” 30% considered “members of;” a large majority – 60% -- are detained merely because they are “associated with” a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified.

So, of the prisoners who are being held for association 98% had enough contact with a prohibited organization to be described as "associated with" (which could be as little as speaking to someone in al Qaeda), 2% don't even meet that threshold.

Correct me if I'm wrong but it looks like you are making my case for me.
You seem to be saying that much fewer than 2% of the total number of detainees are being held without justification. Considering that there are about 500 or so detainees we might just be talking about a couple of people. An injustice sure, but in the annals of warfare, a small one.
Whether or not any particular group is on a terrorist watch list is not really of concern to me. As I said before, we're at war so I'm going to give our guys the benefit of the doubt whenever possible regarding what groups they consider a threat.

The prisoners at Gitmo were held initially because they were "the worst of the worst" as I believe Rumsfeld said, and they were supposed to be invaluable intelligence sources. Three years on, their intelligence value is worth a little less than Paris Hilton's and while some may be the worst of the worst, we’ve got thousands more just as “worse” at large.
If we could find ALL the bad guys in the world, or maybe even half of them, and lock them up forever and be done with terror or fanaticism or islamofascism or whatever it is we're supposed to be fighting here, I'd be all for it. The problem is, what we're doing at Guantanamo, Baghran, Abu Ghraib, Diego Garcia, assorted secret prisons in Eastern Europe, etc., won't work. It won't work because the "get ‘em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow" approach has never worked. Put your boot on the neck of one (put any member of any group of people here) and you get that person's brother, sister, friend, coreligionist, countryman, ethnic cohort, etc. pissed off enough that you've just multiplied your problem. There are something like, what, a billion muslims? Assuming that the same proportion of them are humorless fanatics as among any religion, housing them would require a prison construction program dwarfing the effort spent building the interstate highway system. Even then we’d still be sowing dragon’s teeth.

Calm down. We managed the cold war in which our adversary had thousands of ICBMs and every other imaginable resource, we’ll manage a fight with people that hijack planes with box cutters.

As for the “why do you hate America?” nonsense you reactionaries always trot out: please. Us liberal types are for the most part in the income brackets that prevent us from leaving the U.S. “America: love it or leave it” is not an option: we’re stuck here and we don’t want to live on an authoritarian work farm.

Steve, here's the breakdown: 45% of the detainees at Gitmo are alleged to have committed some hostile act against the United States or its coalition forces.

55% aren't accused of anything besides an association the Taliban or al Qaeda. Of the association-only group, nearly two-thirds aren't even classified as members of these organizations, instead they are designated as mere "associates." The definition of "associates" includes simply having known or even talked to someone who belonged to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Recall that the Taliban were the government of Afghanistan, so, being associated with someone in the Taliban is a pretty low threshold. By the government's criteria, any schoolteacher or civil servant in Afghanistan would probably qualify as an associate of the Taliban. Then there's that 2% of the association-only group who have no known association.

Steve, our government says that we sent people to Gitmo because they were the worst of the worst. And yet, by the government's own admission, the vast majority of them weren't fighting outside of uniform.

To put it plainly, you folks and your spiritual kin have done everything within your power to undermine the war effort since day one and in fact deny that the war on terror even exists

Sorry Steve, this doesn't hold up to the facts. Facts such as: we supported the war against al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists from day one. The war on Iraq was obviously not part of that war, so we didn't support it. But how do you explain, if what you say here is true, the fact that a) there were no mass protests against the war in Afghanistan, which _was_ against al Qaeda, and therefore made sense, and b) that France, Germany, and Canada all fought side by side with America in Afghanistan in that war, and are still there?

So, sorry, we don't buy that we're undermining the war effort. As General John Strawson put it in his book, "Churchill and Hitler," the first rule of strategy is "correctly to select the primary objective. The second rule is to concentrate and deploy forces in such a way as to achieve the object." The primary objective for ALL of us, not just the neoconservatives, and not only the Americans, was to stop al Qaeda. President Bush took a stupid diversion from that strategy to pursue his own party's agenda, thus dissipating our forces and drawing Iran over the Iraq border, so drawing them in as well. The diversion, along with false imprisonment and Lynndie England-style torture, are what we're protesting against. The Liberals, the French, the Germans, and the Canadians, all fought together as one with your ilk against Afghanistan, and are still fighting there, without a peep of protest. Your argument doesn't hold up.

Don't feel too bad, Steve. This is simply not a blog where you can come on and just yell, "President Bush did _GREAT_ during Katrina, you guys! And the Iraq war was a _GREAT_ idea! And the Democrats were the ones who surveilled Martin Luther King, so they're the bad ones, not J. Edgar Hoover! J. Edgar Hoover _LOVED_ Martin Luther King! The Democrats are bad! And the Republicans are only good! They never made a mistake during Katrina! Even though I'm actually a disinterested Libertarian, and not a Republican. No, really, you guys! You guys?"

I mean, we're not trying to bust your chops here, but you really can't come on with stuff like this and expect to change any minds or be taken seriously.

As I said before, we're at war

I think a lot of people (especially here) would reject this assertion.

It's OK to hide under the bed and wait for the grown-ups to take care of things.

Yo, Steverino, I am totally WITH you. If these people are already in Gitmo, then obviously they BELONG there. Because if they didn't already belong there, they wouldn't BE there. So there.

But how do you explain, if what you say here is true, the fact that a) there were no mass protests against the war in Afghanistan, which _was_ against al Qaeda, and therefore made sense, and b) that France, Germany, and Canada all fought side by side with America in Afghanistan in that war, and are still there?

Steve?? Steve??

Hey 1984, settle down, I don't have all weekend to sit here chatting with you, I have a life.
There were protests against going into Afghanistan.
Let me see if I get your reasoning ‘84: Terrorists are filtering into Iraq where we’re killing and capturing them but we shouldn’t be in Iraq because it’s just a diversion from the war on terror.
Something tells me that George Patton would not be impressed by your strategic thinking.
You claim you’re not undermining the war but your side is advocating for the same thing that the enemy is, perhaps not for the same reasons, but you are both pushing for the same outcome-a US withdrawal and defeat in Iraq.
You claim that you want to win the war out of one side of your mouth while denying that we are even at war out of the other.
Your rhetoric has given aid and comfort to the enemy, encouraging them keep fighting in the hope that they can break America's will.
We haven't been attacked in over 4 years (knock on wood), al queada is a husk of it’s former self, it’s leaders are killed, captured, or hiding in caves afraid to show their faces, terrorists are filtering into Iraq where our guys are killing and capturing them and the Iraqis are free, (all no thanks to you people). We’re winning and you folks are all calling it (and maybe hoping for) a defeat.
You have no credibility on this issue and you never have.
Trysterio basically sums up what you folks have to offer. Nothing positive, just childish taunts.
Frosty, the Soviets had ICBM’s but they were also sane. They wanted to live too. And I’m sorry about your financial situation but you think you have problems? My maid called in sick today.
Lindsay, your priorities give you away. The story here is always the same: America as the villain. Maybe I’m supposed to believe that’s a coincidence. I don’t.
America is the villain for force feeding hunger striking prisoners. America would also be the villain for letting them die. America is the villain for detaining them in the first place. Anybody notice a common thread here?
You can try and sell the idea that we are locking up a bunch of innocent kindergarten teachers and postal workers while purposely letting dangerous killers go free but nobody’s going to believe it for the simple reason that it doesn’t make any sense. Common sense tells me that only people who are predisposed to believe the worst about America would buy that laughable story. It will make excellent propaganda for the enemy though. Good work.

Let me see if I get your reasoning ‘84: Terrorists are filtering into Iraq where we’re killing and capturing them but we shouldn’t be in Iraq because it’s just a diversion from the war on terror.

Not quite. You're misquoting me. I said terrorists _are_ filtering into Iraq _now,_ where Iraq formerly exported absolutely _no_ terrorism to us, and the reason it's happening _now_ is because we _shouldn't,_ past tense, have gone into Iraq, and it _was_ a diversion. That's what I said. The fact that there are now terrorists, now able to move freely into and out of Iraq (thanks to our strange decision to divert our troops from the al Qaeda fight in Afghanistan), and supported largely by Iran, means that it _was_ a diversion and a mistake to go in there. Please be truthful--if that's possible for a guy who claimed that the Democrats were responsible for surveilling Martin Luther King, instead of it being J. Edgar Hoover's vendetta. But I suppose that's another liberal plot?

and: But how do you explain, if what you say here is true, the fact that a) there were no mass protests against the war in Afghanistan, which _was_ against al Qaeda, and therefore made sense, and b) that France, Germany, and Canada all fought side by side with America in Afghanistan in that war, and are still there?

there were protests against going into Afghanistan

I said mass protests. Your skipping over that part, and over the participation of Canada, France and Germany with us, tells me that you're not honest.

Can you provide any evidence at all of substantial protests against our going into Afghanistan? I don't remember any such thing taking place. I wouldn't have protested against that war, and I didn't. Have you any evidence at all of this? No, because: Afghanistan made sense; Iraq did not. We all knew it. We all, liberals, Europeans, and conservatives alike, supported Afghanistan. Iraq was a stupid mistake, and like Brownie, one that shouldn't have been made. We advised against it and we were right.

Lindsay is doing a great job of selling me on the idea that we've locked up plenty of innocent people, because they lived in the wrong place and had the wrong color skin, so they looked suspicious to someone. But if looking suspicious was a crime worthy of locking someone up and throwing away the key, then you would deserve that sentence, my friend. True Americans know that we have to live up to a higher standard than George Bush, the Texecutioner's (remember how he never pardoned a single death-row inmate? They must _all_ have been guilty, right?). But then, true Americans have the strength of character to admit it when they're wrong.

Never mind, Steve. I guess I shouldn't have talked with you. I just think you're a liar.

Posted by: Steve | February 13, 2006 at 07:54 PM

'84, Patton, ICBM...some serious crank you are. shsss. You know, just a short time before, anybody using aol is a subject to instant removal from the system regadless.

Guantanamo seems like a test of our national will... sort of "political frog soup"- ie "Will it fly, or not?"
Over half a century ago there was a "guantanamo" that culminated in an "auschwitz".

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