Hilzoy had an item overnight, helpfully pointing us towards an ongoing “discussion” about the recidivism rate of Guantanamo detainees once they are released. Firstly, a Pentagon spokesperson said
The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight. So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.
So there clearly, Barbara, are people who are being held at Guantanamo who are still bent on doing harm to America, Americans, and our allies. So there will have to be some solution for the likes of them, and those are among — that is among the thorny issues that the president-elect and his new team are carefully considering.”
She then goes on to point out that so-called “liberal media” outfits like Reuters and CNN helpfully swallowed this story hook, line, and sinker, with stories like “Pentagon: Ex-Gitmo Detainees Resume Terror Acts.” Needless to say, the conservative media picked up and amplified this story, spinning it into obvious proof that Guantanamo needs to stay open, and we must continue our position of indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without granting them any civil rights whatsoever.
Hilzoy is, unsurprisingly, skeptical of the administration’s take on this situation, and has some good evidence to back up her opinions. Turns out, Mark Denbeaux at the Seton Hall Center for Policy and Research looked more closely at the statistics the last time the Pentagon made a claim about Gitmo recidivism, and found a single individual who had been detained there and later was killed or captured on an actual battlefield.
Among other folks who were claimed to have “returned to the fight” were the Tipton Three, British citizens who were incorrectly charged, found to be innocent, and later participated in the making of a documentary about their case. Similarly, a group of Uighurs “captured” in Afghanistan were found to not be enemy combatants by the Defense Department, released, and one of them wrote an op-ed for the New York Times.
So Hilzoy comes to the natural conclusion that, since many if not most of the people released from Gitmo were never actually terrorists, as proven by the fact that they were released, they cannot be returning to the fight. It’s hard to return to something you’ve never been a part of before.
Which is true, but I think she misses the point a little bit. Even if every word the Pentagon said was absolutely true, and these folks were bad guys who we had to let go due to the crazy liberal military tribunal system, that still doesn’t show that keeping Guantanamo open is a good idea. In fact, to my mind, it shows the exact opposite.
Look, one of the serious downsides of fighting a severely asymmetric war is that one of the key factors is minimizing the number of people who are seriously pissed off at you. If you kill 100, but in the meantime kill 30 civilians, which pisses off 3000 people, 10% of whom go on to be terrorists, congratulations! You’ve just made a net difference of +200 terrorists in the world. It seems to me that this is the single biggest problem with the current crap going on in Gaza. A similar calculus is identifiable here. What if you kidnap an innocent, and torture and mistreat him so poorly during his detention that, upon release, he wants nothing more than revenge on the people who did that to him? Now, you have someone who “returns” to a war he was never a part of, and you’ve just gone through a ton of effort to actually make things worse.
It’s a complicated issue, and I have no good solution about the problem of what to do with the really bad guys who we have locked up, who could never be convicted in an actual court of law, since nearly all the evidence against them is tainted by the methods used to get it. But it seems obvious to me that the first step is, like anytime you find yourself in a deep hole, to stop digging. Close Gitmo down, figure out what to do with the already fucked prosecutions you have, but at least make sure that anything we do in the future has a chance of succeeding in a Geneva conventions-approved fashion.