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Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb on Guantanamo: "We're Making These Things Up as We Go Along"

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A week ago, I was invited by the BBC to be a guest on Richard Bacon's show on Radio 5 Live as part of an hour-long discussion about whether or not the six Guantánamo detainees charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks would receive a fair trial. The other guest was Michael Goldfarb, the online editor of WorldwideStandard.com, the Weekly Standard's Blog, who subsequently published a post that attempted to undermine my point of view, by mentioning one of my articles, in which I reported claims made by one of the Guantánamo detainees, Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, that he has been infected with AIDS during his imprisonment at Guantánamo.

Mr. Goldfarb was dismissive of the article, which came as no surprise to me, because it also revealed -- as confirmed by the Chief Medical Doctor at Guantánamo -- that Mr. al-Ghizzawi has contracted tuberculosis during his imprisonment, and that he also suffers from hepatitis B, which was dormant before his arrival at the prison.

Those who read the full article would also have discovered that Mr. al-Ghizzawi's case is central to complaints made in sworn statements last year by military officers, who worked on the tribunals at Guantánamo, that the entire system was rigged, through the use of generalized and often generic information masquerading as specific intelligence against individual detainees, to rubber-stamp the administration's untested claims that everyone who had ended up in US custody -- however randomly -- was an "enemy combatant," who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

After the members of his first tribunal decided, based on the "paucity and weakness of the information provided both during and after the CSRT [tribunal] hearing," that there was "no factual basis" for concluding that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was an "enemy combatant," -- and that, by extension, it was probable that the true story, as Mr. al-Ghizzawi explained, was that he was a shopkeeper, married to an Afghan woman, who was seized by Afghan bounty hunters and sold to the US military -- the US military dismissed the members of his first tribunal and held a second, secret tribunal in which they concluded that he was an "enemy combatant" after all.

In the interests of shedding some light on Mr. Goldfarb's opinions, I reproduce below a transcript of part of last Monday's show, in which he helpfully described how, after 9/11, the US administration turned its back on 232 years of the law, replacing it with an ad-hoc system in which, to quote his exact words, "we're making these things up as we go along."

About twenty minutes into the show, Richard Bacon discussed the greater transparency that would be involved in the cases if they were transferred to US federal courts.

Richard Bacon: Why can't they be tried in front of a jury in a federal court?

Michael Goldfarb: Well, frankly, there are security issues. You know, we're not going to expose American citizens to sitting on a jury for al-Qaeda members [...]

Richard Bacon: [...] So a terror suspect has never been tried in the United States in a civil or federal court?

Michael Goldfarb: Terror suspects have been tried in a federal court ...

Richard Bacon: Well, why was that jury exposed to them?

Michael Goldfarb: I mean, if you arrest someone in this country, we've dealt with these things differently. The fundamental issue here is that we're making these things up as we go along. There was no way to do this. [...]

Andy Worthington: It's an extraordinary confession that "we've been making this up as we go along." That's exactly what seems to have been happening since 9/11 in terms of the detention, interrogation and prosecution of these detainees. You know, what interests me is the issue that you raised of successful prosecutions that took place in the United States of terrorists before 9/11, and this is something that seems to be missed out on, because we're led to believe that the world started anew on 9/11. Whereas in fact, those of us who have longer memories will remember that there were the African embassy bombings and that there were earlier events, and that there were successful prosecutions.

Richard Bacon: And those juries were exposed to terrorists?

Andy Worthington: Yes, exactly, and it goes deeper than that ...

Michael Goldfarb: And that really worked out to prevent 9/11, didn't it? That really worked out to stymie the onslaught of these terrorists ...

Richard Bacon: Are you saying that it somehow contributed to 9/11?

Michael Goldfarb: I'm saying it was an ineffectual response to terrorism, to simply put them in civilian courts and say, "oh, we're going to treat this as though they're just criminals like any others." They're not criminals like others.

Andy Worthington: I don't see that that's an issue at all, and I see that they are criminals like others, actually. And the point I wanted to raise is that there's an interesting man named Dan Coleman, who was a former FBI interrogator, and he worked with a lot of these terrorist suspects before 9/11, and the interesting thing, the particularly interesting thing about the way Dan Coleman worked, which is germane to the whole thing we're talking about here, is that he -- and other FBI interrogators -- said, you might be able to get some tiny bit of information by beating the crap out of somebody, by torturing them, but that is not how to get to dig to the real truth about what's going on. You do that by building a relationship with the prisoners that you have, and a good interrogator can do that. And then you take them through the court system, because they're criminals.

For further information, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison.