Patterico's Pontifications

9/19/2006

Taranto on Life Inside Guantánamo Bay

Filed under: General,Terrorism — Patterico @ 6:45 am



Here’s another view of life inside our facility at Guantánamo Bay: an interview by James Taranto of Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo.

If we’re going to make good judgments about how to structure military tribunals for detainees at Guantánamo, we need to have good information about what’s going on there. Pieces like the recent New York Times Magazine article and Taranto’s piece provide valuable insights into the reality of Guantánamo. (For what it’s worth, I’m currently working on a project that I hope will contribute in some small way to the public’s understanding of Guantánamo. Stay tuned over the next few days.)

I’m interested in this bit from Taranto’s piece:

When the Supreme Court extended habeas rights to the detainees, it created a loophole in camp security. Guards screen and censor mail to and from the detainees, but communications with their lawyers are privileged and confidential. “We don’t look at the envelope, or in the envelope, at all,” Adm. Harris says. “I believe that the detainees could have abused that privilege and used it as an informal mail system” by passing notes to other detainees in envelopes from lawyers. Adm. Harris is careful to note that he does not believe the lawyers are complicit in any abuse, and that he has no ability to confirm his suspicions: “If it’s written correspondence, and it’s in the habeas envelope, then we cannot get to it.”

Does this concern anyone else? What, if anything, can be done about it? I am not sure that we have an answer to that.

40 Responses to “Taranto on Life Inside Guantánamo Bay”

  1. What, if anything, can be done about it? I am not sure that we have an answer to that.

    Impeach five Supreme Court members (ala Mark Levin) for unconstitutional meddling in presidential war powers, perhaps?

    Seriously, what scares me about the obsession certain Congressmen and jurists have with the well-being of captured jihadis is that, if we get hit again – especially with some sort of WMD – we actually will see serious infringements on our civil liberties in the backlash. Particularly if we find out that the attack could have been prevented by one of the counterterrorist programs that have been criminally leaked to the press for political advantage, or by the sort of effective interrogation techniques that John McCain and the Democrats are trying to reclassify as “torture.”

    Because the same people currently screaming the loudest about alleged “infringements” on our civil liberties and “mistreatment” of detained jihadis will be leading the charge, in an effort to preserve their political careers and deflect the blame.

    Wes S. (255914)

  2. Our esteemed host wrote:

    Does this concern anyone else? What, if anything, can be done about it? I am not sure that we have an answer to that.

    There is a simple answer, and it’s a perfectly legal one: declare the prisoners at Guantanamo to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. This means that they cannot be interrogated, but they’ve been there so long they don’t have anything of worth any more. As POWs, they cannot be charged with crimes in federal courts, but we have the right, under the GC, to hold them in captivity until the war is over — which is what we want to do anyway.

    Since we can censor incoming and outgoing mail to POWs, and since they will not need attorneys, there will be no legitimate legal correspondence.

    Dana (3e4784)

  3. Depending on the volume of this type of communication, I’d think you could set up a special master to review all habeas communiques.

    If something were suspicious, the master would be instructed to review it with another person (depending on who the master is, probably a federal magistrate judge) before releasing it to prison officials.

    These are unusual circumstances, and I think they justify this process.

    –JRM

    JRM (de6363)

  4. Gotta agree with JRM.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  5. We don’t have to impale ourselves following rules that make no sense. Appoint somebody trustworthy to read the damn mail. If it concerns legal issues pass it along without comment and without noting the contents – if it is illegal correspondence, treat it that way.

    George (4e29ea)

  6. but they’ve been there so long they don’t have anything of worth any more.

    Dana,
    That is not true, there continues to be valuable intelligence obtained. Please don’t make assumptions that you can’t back up.

    Stashiu3 (404f9e)

  7. Stashiu3, what information can reasonably be gleaned from people who have been in custody for 4½ years? What information can they have that is fresh and actionable?

    Dana (3e4784)

  8. Recruitment methods, cell structures, money-laundering routes, confirmation of new intel from the field, projected possible targets, communication methods and codes… off the top of my head. How far in advance were the September 11th attacks spoken of even before planning began? The senior leadership held there still consider themselves in the fight and we have not learned everything we can from them yet. We face a well-trained and determined enemy who tries to mislead us and consume resources (time, money, personnel, even patriotism). If we weren’t getting value, why keep them in Guantanamo? We could just send them to prison in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Stashiu3 (404f9e)

  9. Phil,

    Thanks for raising the Mahar Arar issue … it is the true elephant in the closet.

    As you can see, the conservatives hope to simply disappear that issue.

    Macswain (76d8da)

  10. Macswain:

    Speaking to you as a Canadian who is relieved that Mahar Arar’s name was cleared and is regretful that he was mistreated as a result of our (not your) security forces making a mistake, no one hopes the issue disappears.

    We’re glad it’s addressed.

    Do you think World War 2, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, Korea, World War 1, or any other major war in history has ever been successful fought to a just conclusion without mistakes being made and innocents being harmed?

    You’re foolish or dishonest or both.

    Canadian soldiers are now 6-times more likely to die fighting in Afghanistan than your solders are in Iraq. One shot another recently by mistake.

    This happens in war.

    No soldier wants this to be swept under the rug. It’s totally regrettable and sad as Hell. But it happens, Mr., and the bigger issue, which wars must be concerned with, is will we win and save the citizens of these countries from living their lives under horrible tyrranies and can we protect ourselves from being attacked and losing our way of life.

    Of course you as a non-serious liberal believe that no war is forth fighting unless it can be done perfectly.

    Well, I for one rarely live perfect days or have perfect shifts at work and I’m good at my job. Do you think it’s really reasonable to expect perfect wars?

    Come on.

    Christoph (5ab65d)

  11. Macswain,

    What does that have to do with GTMO? Even if you believe that anyone still there is innocent, they certainly aren’t beaten with electric cords. Again, a liberal tries to change the topic and refute the original point through moral equivilance and flawed analogy. Try to stay on point. If you want to talk about another topic, make that suggestion or bring it up on your own blog… oh yeah, you did, didn’t you? Pretty lame attempt to drive up your site hits, I will be more careful of your links in the future.

    Stashiu3 (404f9e)

  12. Macswain,

    Are you Actus’ sockpuppet? Just wondering.

    Stashiu3 (404f9e)

  13. Dana, did you read Patterico’s article at the top of this thread? Have you forgotten about that lawyer who was convicted for running messages between her client and his terrorist buddies?

    The Supreme Court ruleing can easily have had the effect of putting these guys back in the loop.

    larry (336e87)

  14. Back to Patterico’s question, it won’t help this particular issue, but it might be salutory if JAGs were regularly rotated thru the front lines.

    If McCain has his way, they’ll be needed there anyway.

    larry (336e87)

  15. Christoph,

    Passing off the rendition and torture of Mahar Arar as just a mistake is not only demeaning to Arar but human rights in general. He was not sent to Syria through some agreed-upon form of due process which despite best of intentions has some regrettable but unavoidable error rate. He was, instead, sent by fiat to a known practitioner of torture without any due process by which he could have responded to the false accusations made against him.

    The fact that you are blind to the distinction between “mistakes” and the intentional rendition and torture of Arar says much more about who is really serious here.

    What happened to Arar was done by the United States Department of Justice at its highest level (specifically Larry Thompson who was acting attorney general at a time Ashcroft was unavailable). This is the same justice department that has been involved in approving the torture techniques that have been used in interrogations as well as in determining the proper treatment and procedures available to the Guantanamo detainees. A large part of the argument is the rules on these issues must be secret and we should trust those setting them and overseeing their legal validity. Of course, its relevant to know what Bush’s justice department has done in cases like Arar’s to determine whether the Bush administration can be trusted on these issues or whether they, in fact, need to be subject to legal restrictions to prevent innocents from being tortured or detained.

    Macswain (76d8da)

  16. Macswain — without wanting to put words in Cristoph’s mouth, it seems to me that the argument for Arar’s situation being a mistake is that they mistakenly sent someone to Syria who shouldn’t have been, not that the program of sending people to Syria is wrong.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  17. Phil and Macswain,

    Tough titty about your buddy Arar.

    “… to prevent innocents from being tortured or detained”? How about “to prevent innocents Americans from having to choose between being burned alive or jumping from the hundredth floor?”

    I see the Canadians and Americans acting perfectly sensibly. If any suspicious foreigner does not want to be rendered to his country of birth it is easy to avoid –“stay out of America”.

    nk (b57bfb)

  18. aphrael,

    I see your distinction but all mistakes are not, in fact, equal. The mistake in wrongfully identifying Arar as Al Qaeda may be reckless, negligent or within an acceptable error rate. Yet, the real problem remains the intentional decision to render him – after just 13 days and with no due procees afforded him – to a country known to practice torture.

    To attempt to justify the actions taken against Arar by comparing those actions with mistakes compelled by the immediate exigencies of life and death battlefield decisions is despicable because it sets a standard by which a myriad of human rights abuses – clearly avoidable mistakes – are excused.

    Where’s the call for any personal accountability for what the Bush administration did to Arar?

    Macswain (76d8da)

  19. nk, for crying out loud.

    Arar was badly mistreated by both Canadian and American police forces. Nobody is saying they did it because they are ‘bad’. They screwed up. What, it doesn’t happen? Mistake, excess of zeal, bad policies, poor communications, who cares, let’s figure out what went wrong and fix it.

    Arar was and is a Canadian citizen coming home from vacation and changing planes in an airport. You going to take that big tough screw you attitude to the Canadian citizen troops fighting alongside yours in Afghanistan? How about the dead Canadian citizen troops from the American friendly fire accident of a few weeks ago.

    If you want all us bloody foreigners out of your life and country, fine, good, we’ll stay home, business people buying your stuff, tourists, troops, the whole works.

    BlacquesJacquesShellacques (83acf5)

  20. NK: so you’re saying that it’s reasonable for Canadian citizens to have to worry about whether or not the US will consider them suspicious when using a US airport as a transfer point?

    And you’re saying it’s reasonable to send someone to their country of birth instead of their country of citizenship just because we think they’re suspicious?

    I think the first is obnoxious behavior (and if I were Canadian i’d be seriously pissed at the United States for its treatment of my countrymen); I think the second is a serious violation of norms of international conduct. Citizenship must mean something, surely.

    And that’s before you even get into the question of what happened to Arar once he was in Syria.

    aphrael (e7c761)

  21. And you’re saying it’s reasonable to send someone to their country of birth instead of their country of citizenship just because we think they’re suspicious?

    I believe it was because Canada told us he was suspicious. Is that true?

    Pablo (08e1e8)

  22. Are these the facts?

    Arar was identified as suspicious by Candada.

    He had dual citizenship in Canada and Syria.

    The US returned (deported?) him to Syria.

    Syria tortured him.

    If so then it looks like Canada made a mistake and Syria did a bad thing. At this point “rendered” looks like propaganda.

    boris (e173ce)

  23. Canada does share in the blame but, unlike the U.S., has conducted a transparent investigation and is owning up to its errors.

    Here’s more, however:

    “The Canadian police “had no idea of what would eventually transpire,’’ the commission said. “It did not occur to them that the American authorities were contemplating sending Mr. Arar to Syria.”

    “While the F.B.I. and the Mounted Police kept up their communications about Mr. Arar, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs was not told about his detention for almost three days. Its officials, acting on calls from worried relatives, had been trying to find him. Similarly, American officials denied Mr. Arar’s requests to speak with the Canadian Consulate in New York, a violation of international agreements.

    “Evidence presented to the commission, said Paul J. J. Cavalluzzo, its lead counsel, showed that the F.B.I. continued to keep its Canadian counterparts in the dark even while an American jet was carrying Mr. Arar to Jordan. The panel found that American officials “believed — quite correctly — that, if informed, the Canadians would have serious concerns about the plan to remove Mr. Arar to Syria.”

    Macswain (76d8da)

  24. Syria tortured him.

    Actually, I don’t see that in the article, other than the unsupported assertion. I don’t see where he says it, or anyone else says it (other than the writer), or he describes any torture. I’m also confused by the fact that we’re now allegedly conspiring with Syria to torture innocent Canadians. And as always, I’m chagrined at those who see the word in the NYT and immediately carve it across their soul as an immutable fact.

    At this point “rendered” looks like propaganda.

    Yeah, the first line of the NYT piece says he was deported, not rendered.

    Arar held a news conference. Didn’t anyone ask him how he is and what was done to him? Anyone ask Syria what their deal was with him?

    Pablo (08e1e8)

  25. Thanks Pablo, Comment #25. Those are very good questions. I also wonder what passport he was traveling under? And was Syria our ally in the war against terror, torturing suspects for us, but now is a sponsor of terrorism? Or is it just convenient anti-American propaganda? And please, all Canadians foreigners, notice that I said his country of birth. We do have a right to elect whom we allow to enter our country and our authorities should not be a travel bureau trying to find a desirable destination for a deportee. In any, event acceptable losses. Better to err on the side of inhospitability towards a foreign national than on the side of permitting a terrorist act inside the United States.

    nk (5a2f98)

  26. Wes said – “Impeach five Supreme Court members (ala Mark Levin) for unconstitutional meddling in presidential war powers, perhaps?”

    As much as I admire Mark Levin and as intelligent as he is, I believe he’s just flat wrong on any unconstitutionality of the presidents war powers. A state of war does not give the president any more powers than what he already had. The only ones that can increase any amount of temporary power to the president is Congress. The Justices ruled correctly in this case.

    DKSuddeth (ac44fb)

  27. nk asked:

    “And was Syria our ally in the war against terror, torturing suspects for us, but now is a sponsor of terrorism?”

    Syria has consistently been a state sponsor of terrorism, according to our own US State Department

    rick (9b1e72)

  28. I go to sleep for a bit from working nights and Macswain goes back to hijacking the thread. Don’t feed the trolls, especially the ones with BDS.

    Stashiu3 (404f9e)

  29. “What, if anything, can be done about it?”

    Give them speedy and public trials?

    Kimmitt (991ad0)

  30. nk, I’d also like to know whose custody he was in when he was taken from Jordan to Syria. Was it American?

    DKSuddeth,

    A state of war does not give the president any more powers than what he already had. The only ones that can increase any amount of temporary power to the president is Congress.

    They’ve argued that the language in the Authorization for Use of Military Force gives the President more latitude to conduct the WOT, which is to say that Congress has approved a wartime expansion of powers.

    Pablo (08e1e8)

  31. Pablo, re #23: yes, it is true that Canada told us he was suspicious; however, it’s not clear how we got from there to deciding to send him to Syria. I would expect normal protocol in such a case to be to deport him to Canada, or at the very least to ask Canada if it’s ok to send him to Syria.

    Pablo, re #25: it’s been fairly widely reported throughout Canada that Arar was tortured. I haven’t been discussing this aspect of it because I don’t think it’s relevant to the question of what the US has done wrong here, but I’ve seen it in enough different venues to regard it as established fact.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  32. Pablo: also, the press reporting right now is pretty much exclusively about the announcement of the Canadian government’s inquiry into the situation. Questions about what was done to Arar in Syria would have been asked at press conferences when the entire thing came to light for the first time, two years ago or so.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  33. Syria has consistently been a state sponsor of terrorism, according to our own US State Department

    And a known human rights violator, so what can we expect to happen to people we send there?

    actus (10527e)

  34. Pablo said – “They’ve argued that the language in the Authorization for Use of Military Force gives the President more latitude to conduct the WOT, which is to say that Congress has approved a wartime expansion of powers.”

    anyone can argue anything and even get it approved by the court, but that wouldn’t make it legal. congress cannot change the constitution on a whim. changing the constitution can only be done by ‘we the people’ through a very lengthy process.

    The courts denying the president a power, only to have congress rubberstamp it with legislation that somehow magically removes that part of the constitution, and then ‘we the people’ just letting it slide is inherently dangerous to the constitution, the rule of law, and ultimately our freedom.

    DKSuddeth (a18213)

  35. Liberal democratic lawyers have a history of assisting the terrorists. Wasn’t that long ago that one went to jail in NY for helping the terrorists from the first attack on the WTC.

    Scrapiron (a90377)

  36. “Liberal democratic lawyers have a history of assisting the terrorists. Wasn’t that long ago that one went to jail in NY for helping the terrorists from the first attack on the WTC.”

    Lynne Stewart, the attorney convicted of aiding sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, isn’t a democrat.

    Rick (c7fbdd)

  37. i think we should give guantanamo back to cuba.
    it would be great public relations. cuba is not a threat as it was in 1962. the castro era is about to end, the only people still fighting that war are the batististas who were kicked out during the revolution, who moved to florida and are still wagging our dog from there, and who want all their money/property back.
    we would lose nothing militarily by doing this, we can still project plenty of power over the caribbean from florida and alabama. if we did it right, we could cultivate a new democracy without killing anybody for a change.
    and then: major league baseball franchises in havana and mexico city!

    assistant devil's advocate (76d45f)

  38. actus:

    what can we expect to happen to people we send there?

    When could we be expected to send people there?

    Polymer (6946e1)

  39. Lynne Stewart, the attorney convicted of aiding sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, isn’t a democrat.

    Rick, I think you’re a liberal, terrorist lawyer, that’s what I think. How dare you questions my information. If it were up to me, I would join up with the national guard and put a curfue in your town and take over your house. I would try on your wife’s panties and shout sweet nothings into the ears of strangers. I would wear the panties on the outside of my trousers so everyone could see how good I look. I’ll put my hair in curlers too, if you like.

    Scrapiron (d015ff)


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