Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another Gitmo Innocent Speaks Out

Go read the story of Gholam Ruhani in the Washington Post. Ruhani is the third Gitmo prisoner whose story has been broken in the papers, and once more, it's particularly compelling because he's been held at the naval station for five years despite the lack of evidence against him, and in spite of the fact that all evidence points at him having simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time... but he is still being held indefinitely. Because he's the "worst of the worst."

The 23-year-old Afghan shopkeeper, who spoke a little English, was seized near his hometown of Ghazni when he agreed to translate for a Taliban government official seeking a meeting with a U.S. soldier.

Ruhani is still at Guantanamo, marking the fifth anniversary of the prison and his own captivity. He remains as stunned about his fate, according to transcripts of his conversations with military officers, as he was when U.S. military police led him inside the razor wire on Jan. 11, 2002, and accused him of being America's enemy.

"I never had a war against the United States, and I am surprised I'm here," Ruhani told his captors during his first chance to hear the military's reasons for holding him, three years after he arrived at Guantanamo. "I tried to cooperate with Americans. I am no enemy of yours."

Now prison and prisoner are forever linked, joined by hasty decisions made in war and trapped by that fateful beginning.

But after five years and more than $600 million, Gitmo has failed to quickly and fairly handle the cases of hundreds of people such as Ruhani, against whom the government has no clear evidence of a role in attacks against the United States, according to current and former government officials and attorneys for detainees.

"We of course had to make snap judgments in the battlefield," said one administration official involved in reviewing Guantanamo cases, who spoke anonymously to avoid angering superiors. "Where we had problems was that once we had individuals in custody, no one along the layers of review wanted to take a risk. So they would take a shred of evidence that a detainee was associated with another bad person and say that's a reason to keep them."

That policy, and persistent reports of detainee abuse inside Guantanamo's walls, have provided rallying points for Islamic radicals, undermined international support for U.S. efforts to track down terrorists and ignited a legal effort that has repeatedly embarrassed the administration.

"Guantanamo took on a life of its own," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former U.S. ambassador at large for war crime issues. "What started as a solution to an immediate problem became both a more permanent place and a cause celebre internationally."

President Bush, relying on advisers' untested legal theories, declared a week after the prison opened that the captives were not entitled to Geneva Conventions protections or prisoner-of-war status and could be held in Cuba, without charges, indefinitely.

Between its opening and Feb. 14, 2002, the number of prisoners at Guantanamo swelled to 300. In late January of that year, Vice President Cheney said the detainees were "the worst of a very bad lot" and added: "They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans."

But of the 773 detainees who have spent time in Guantanamo, the government has released roughly half, most because they had no information and no role in any fighting. The majority were sent home after the evidence against each was formally reviewed at military hearings required in 2004 by the Supreme Court, which rejected the Bush administration's claim that it could detain foreign nationals indefinitely without such sessions.

Of the 393 prisoners who remain today, the military has determined that 85 pose so little threat, they should be transferred to their home countries. Officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because some evidence about the prisoners is classified, estimate that about 200 pose a danger to Americans.

One major obstacle for Ruhani and dozens of others still at the prison is nationality. The U.S. government has determined that Afghanistan, and a few other countries, cannot keep track of released detainees who the United States believes are low-risk but need monitoring.

Afghans make up the largest group of current detainees. Yemenis and Saudis, whose countries either cannot handle released detainees or do not want them, also remain in large numbers.

The detainees in that first group of 20 are emblematic of Guantanamo's prisoners. Half have been released. Of the remaining 10, one is David Hicks -- prisoner No. 2 -- an Australian who fought in the Kosovo Liberation Army, then converted to Islam and was captured in Afghanistan. Two are admitted Taliban commanders.

Three others are more like Ruhani, with public files that appear to make them unlikely enemies of the United States.

One is Shakhrukh Hamiduva, an 18-year-old Uzbek refugee who fled his country after the government there killed one of his uncles and jailed other relatives. He tried to cross the border from Afghanistan when U.S. bombs started falling but was captured by a tribal leader and sold to U.S. forces for a bounty. He said soldiers told him he would be released, but instead he ended up in Cuba.

"We went after small fries at every turn," said Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University law professor who helped argue the Supreme Court case last June that struck down the government's original plan for military trials. "Gitmo blew our credibility. And it's going to take a long time to get it back."
When is someone in the Bush White House going to realize that Donald Rumsfeld has been fired for a reason, and that ALL of his ideas were stupid, especially the one about opening a prison on foreign soil and holding innocent people there indefinitely? Oh, right, that would require a bit of thinking about the matter, instead of reflexively defending stupid decisions that have already been made.