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Guantanamo Myth No. 2: Caught on the Battlefield

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I only learned of the phrase "caveat auditor" this past week; it was used in the context of discussing the concept of irony in a different administration. Sadly there is nothing ironic (yet?) about our current administration, everything is just too predictable. So although my first thought was that "caveat auditor" (let the listener beware) would be a perfect term of art for describing how we should treat the Guantánamo myths (and for that matter everything we hear from the Bushies), that thought was quickly replaced by the realization that it is not a strong enough warning. We should not just "beware" of what we are hearing from them, we should "disregard" it all together. As some of you have guessed, Latin is not my forte so I leave the design of a new term of art to those of you who are able to create such things. Meanwhile, if factual integrity happens to be important to you, don't just be aware but rather disregard the Guantánamo talking points from the Bushies. The two major talking points are repeated by the administration and its minions, ad nauseum, parroted by the press and frequented in editorials and op-eds as though they were true. In fact, these two myths have been cited so often that even people that should know better casually concur without question. So, as we await the ancient art of "fact checking" to be rediscovered by anthropologists and mapped out for a future generation we will have to make due with lawyers acting as journalists. Sorry.

Back to debunking the Guantánamo myths: The number one myth is that if the prisoners from Guantánamo are released they will "return" to the battlefield. This "fact" has been the rallying cry for current and former administration fear mongers, who then, in an effort to show how serious the threat is, talk about the Guantánamo prisoners who have returned to the battlefield that "they know of". Since they are not constrained by the truth, the numbers vary widely from an unknown number to ever changing numbers (note that the numbers are not changing because they are going up, it has gone from: more than a dozen to four; then back up to more than twenty; and back down to 5 or 10; etc.) For various reasons, the Bushies are always reluctant to give any details (other than the fake numbers) about who these "folks" are (not the least of the reasons for this is that it makes it easier to nail them on their lies if they actually name names). However, over the course of the last few years I have found the names of three prisoners that have been wrestled out of our junta as being found "back" on the battlefield after release from Guantánamo: one a braggart who was probably never at Guantánamo to begin with (there are no names like his on any list) and the other two, we have been told, somehow lied their way out of Guantánamo later to be killed on the battlefield. Somehow the two that were allegedly killed on the battlefield managed to get themselves killed while still sitting at Guantánamo. Pretty tricky stuff, unless perhaps Cheney and crew only meant that they died on the battlefield in some metaphorical way. (I should add that a reader suggested two other possible names but they were not on the list of Guantánamo detainees either.)

But there is another part to this talking point: the myth that the Guantánamo prisoners will "return" "to the battlefield" begs the question that they were ever at the battlefield. As you will soon learn most were nowhere near a battlefield. (Although for one of my two clients, the "battlefield" he was picked up at was the home of his in-laws, which I guess really is a battlefield for some.)

I think the only way some of you are going to believe me about where these men were when they were apprehended is to look at the military's own records. I mean I am just a mouthpiece for terrorists right? But unless your conspiracy theory is so out of whack as to have you thinking the military lied in its own records to make itself look bad, these records are a good place to examine where these men were picked up... So please, review these records of the military. Of course reading these thousand of pages is hard work. I guess that is why most of our corporate media couldn't be bothered. It is easier to continue to parrot Rumsfeld and crew and stick to the party line: everyone at Guantánamo is the "worst of the worst" caught red handed (oh wait that was the cold war) caught "being Muslim" on the battlefield.

Anyway I read those thousands of pages from the Combat Status Review Tribunals (these were the tribunals cooked up by the administration to rubber stamp its own decisions that the detainees are "enemy combatants"). As I read through the records, I found myself sometimes laughing out loud at the absurdities, at other times just shaking my head in disbelief, but mostly I just sat sadly and read, one tribunal after another, stunned at the complete incompetence and unfairness of the process. It was a lot of reading and when I was done I realized that I was so transfixed I had taken next to no notes. To really understand these thousands of pages, nevertheless explain what was there to someone else, would require more organizing than I was (obviously) prepared to do.

Fortunately for all of us others did the work for us. Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, his lawyer son Joshua Denbeaux and a number of law students from Seton Hall University School of Law (where Mark is a professor) took on the arduous task of compiling the information from the military reports and organizing it. Here is what the military's own documents have to say about where these men were apprehended: Only five percent of the prisoners were picked up by U.S. forces, 86 % of the men were arrested and turned over to the U.S. forces by the Pakistani's or the Northern Alliance. According to the Seton Hall report "This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for the capture of suspected enemies. " (Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf admitted in his "kiss and tell" book last year that the Pakistani government made millions of dollars turning over Arab's to the U.S. during that time period.) Only 8% of detainees are characterized as al Qaeda fighters and 60% are held because they are "associated with" groups the government asserts are terrorist organizations (though only 8% are identified as "fighters" for any group). And as for the "terrorist organizations" that these men are accused of being "associated with" the Denbeauxs released a second report again using the governments own data and analyzed the 72 organizations with which the detainees are purportedly affiliated. The groups were identified by the Department of Defense (DOD) in the CSRT data, and the Denbeauxs cross-checked those groups against the State Department Designated and Other Foreign Terrorist Organizations Lists and the Patriot Act Terrorist Exclusion List (intended to be used to exclude terrorists from the United States). The Denbeauxs report found that fully 52 of the groups on the DOD list, or 72%, are not on either of the other two lists, while 18% of the groups are on one of the two lists, but not both. What this means is that we are holding men in Guantánamo because they are "associated" with groups whose members we allow to freely travel in the U.S..

While waiting for that catchy new phrase to describe the total disdain we must give to every piece of information that comes from the Bushies perhaps we can make due by coupling "caveat auditor" with "question authority" and then practice both. We will certainly gain better insight into the real threats to our lives and liberty. We might also have a shot at taking back that democracy we once had.

Interested in the litigation at Guantanamo?

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