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Tuesday, June 17, 2003
The New York Times publishes an update on Gitmo based on the accounts of some released detainees.

Now, I'd just like to do some interpretive damage control before my fellow wacky leftists get out of hand with this. (Not that it'll do much good, I know, but...) First off, let's just keep in mind here that these are not the reliable sources, on either side, so maybe we should take all of this with a few grains of salt.

More importantly, though, I think we have to differentiate between the detainees' physical treatment and their procedural treatment / legal status. They are different issues and we need to maintain separate and, I think, opposing judgments on them.

Their physical treatment, it now seems clear, is not something I think we should be too concerned about. Everyone seems to agree that there were no beatings, and while they weren't exactly living in the lap of luxury (or Florida white-collar prisons), we have to remember that these were not nice men. At the very least, they actively supported a regime that was not, shall we say, soft on the women-killing issue, the Taliban. Most were trying to kill American soldiers, and in the worst case some are actually Al-Qaeda agents. (And don't give me the "they were defending their homeland" line--if there's any army I'd expect you to go AWOL from, for moral and/or self-preservation reasons, it'd be the Taliban's.) These guys aren't the domestic detainees picked up for decidedly non-violent immigration violations--they're killers who have no problem stoning women to death, and we really have to remember that before we go complaining too loudly about them only having half an hour of exercise a week. I'd love to live in a world where neither of those things happen, but given the choice, I'll go with the harsh sunlight any day.

But, you ask, what if they're not killers or Taliban supporters or Al-Qaeda members? Well, that's where the procedural stuff comes in.

On a certain level, the outcry about Gitmo has been prompted by a certain naivety about the way we get a lot of our intel and about the treatment of war prisoners worldwide--this is not, I don't think, particularly harsh treatment compared to that of most other countries. But now we see it not only happening here, but also happening with, as the article points out, "Canadians, Britons, Algerians and Australians, and one Swede." This scares people, understandably so, especially in conjunction with the other various scary rumblings coming out about civil liberties in the last two years. It's a weird combination of alarmist and naive--well, hell, from the conspiracy theory point of view they could always do this to ordinary Americans, but an Al-Qaeda member with Canadian citizenship is still a long, long way from an American student protester--but if we're getting that reaction here, imagine the reaction elsewhere. If the U.S. is to be a beacon of justice and democracy to the world, maybe it's not the best thing for our support of freedom in the Islamic world to be seen to be ducking international law. While our disdain for the International Criminal Court is, unfortunately, starting to look smarter and smarter, this doesn't excuse us from long-standing standards of justice like the Geneva convention.

It also doesn't help our vulnerability to charges of injustice when the guilt or innocence of the prisoners is never formally considered--if they have done monstrous things, which I've no doubt most of them have, why not detail it? And, moreover, why deny them counsel for so long? While I recognize that an uncertainty about their fate can be useful for interrogation purposes, I hope any citizen with a civic conscience would agree that any information gleaned from leaving a person in legal limbo for a year is probably priced too high. We can all agree that a year without a lawyer is too long, right?