By Andy Worthington, March 26, 2015
Today, March 26, the Chicago Tribune ran an op-ed about Guantánamo by the co-founders of "Close Guantánamo," Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington. Tom represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, and Andy is an independent journalist who has spent the last nine years working on Guantánamo.
The op-ed, "Dispelling the Myths of Guantánamo Bay," is a response to recent inflammatory -- and totally mistaken -- comments made by Sen. Tom Cotton, the new Republican Senator for Arkansas. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on February 5, Sen. Cotton said, "In my opinion, the only problem with Guantánamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now. We should be sending more terrorists there. As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they can’t do that, they can rot in Guantánamo Bay."
As Tom Wilner and I point out in our op-ed, Sen. Cotton's "assumption" about the Guantánamo prisoners "is both false and dishonest." Of the 122 men still held, 56 have been approved for release by high-level, inter-agency review processes, and only ten have been referred for prosecution.
We mention how the CIA sent its top Arabic specialist to Guantánamo in the summer of 2002, who "interviewed dozens of the detainees and discovered why we weren't getting actionable intelligence: We had the wrong guys. He reported that most simply 'didn't belong there.'" His report, as we also note, "was buried."
We also note how, in June 2004, a New York Times article reported, "In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that, contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of al-Qaida."
16 alleged "high-value detainees" were subsequently sent to Guantánamo, from September 2006 to March 2008 (the last to arrive), but with just ten men facing, or having faced trials -- and just six other having been subjected to trials (or having accepted plea deals) prior to their departure from the prison -- it is clearly outrageous for Sen. Cotton to be making such disgraceful comments about Guantánamo and the men held there.
In our op-ed, Tom Wilner and I not only talk about the 56 men cleared for release (most for over five years); we also discuss the 56 others not cleared for release -- currently undergoing the Periodic Review Board process that has, to date, approved eight men for release out of 12 cases considered. As we explain, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established in 2009 concluded that the majority of these 56 were "too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution" (others were recommended for trials, until the trial system largely collapsed).
As we note, "The label creates the impression that the government knows for sure that these men are hardened criminals but can't prosecute them because of some legal technicality," whereas, in fact, "There is no credible evidence that they ever did wrong or intend to do harm in the future; what there is consists almost entirely of allegations by other detainees, many of whom have since recanted and are known to have made false allegations against others."
Sen. Cotton -- and those who think like him, both in Congress and in the U.S. in general -- are also affected by unsubstantiated claims about the recidivism of former prisoners that are issued twice a year by the Director of National Intelligence, and are, for the most part, uncritically reported in the mainstream media. After a visit to Guantánamo earlier this month (and a subsequent appearance on Fox News that you can find here), Sen. Cotton introduced, in Congress, the Guantánamo Bay Recidivism Prevention Act of 2015, which, as the Huffington Post described it, "would cut U.S. funding to countries that receive former Guantánamo detainees who are later suspected of terrorism."
According to the latest DNI report, issued earlier this month, 104 of the 614 men released from Guantánamo (16.9% of those released) were "confirmed" of "[r]eengaging," with another 74 (12.1%) "suspected" of "[r]eengaging." Lazy media outlets have spent years adding both figures together and publishing them in headlines (making 29% in this case) even though the "suspected" figures are profoundly unreliable, consisting of a single unverified source -- and, to be honest, the "confirmed" figures are not necessarily any better.
No further information is provided by the DNI to assess whether or not the figures are reliable, and last June Peter Bergen and Bailey Cahall of New America, the think-tank in Washington D.C. that has regularly analyzed the figures, stated in an article for CNN that they had "identified 15 former Guantánamo detainees (2.5%) who are confirmed to have engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities against the United States or its citizens, while there are 21 individuals (3.5%) who are suspected of engaging in such activities." The authors also "identified 18 former detainees (3%) who are confirmed or suspected of involvement in militant attacks against non-U.S. targets," and added, "Taking all three categories together, the New America list finds only a third as many Guantánamo prisoners have returned to the battlefield, compared to the U.S. government estimate."
In our op-ed, Tom Wilner and I did not take on the dubious recidivism claims, but it turns out that, like the supposed evidence against the Guantánamo prisoners (released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and partly analyzed by Andy here), they -- and their impact on American perceptions of Guantánamo -- are based far too much on what, in our op-ed, we describe as "false assumptions."
As we also note, in the concluding lines of our op-ed, "The fight against terrorism requires us to make difficult decisions. If we want to get it right, we must make those decisions based on facts, not myths."
We hope you agree, and will read the article and share it widely.