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About those Gitmo detainees

Posted by Richard on April 20, 2005

Rowan Scarborough, in the Washington Times, has an interesting story based on a new Pentagon report about the Guantanamo detainees. Of course, the information comes from the Pentagon, which does have an interest in rebutting the critics of the detentions. So take it with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, the report includes sufficient details, examples, and names that it’s hard to dismiss the whole thing as government spin.

The report contends that even now, three years after their capture, some of the detainees are providing useful intelligence, and it provides some examples. More interesting to me, however, are two other items in the report.

Item one: Where are they now?

    The report said that at least 10 former detainees the Pentagon knows by name have rejoined the war against coalition forces. 
     One of them, Abdullah Mahsud, had denied links to al Qaeda and said he was forced to join the Taliban army. Today, Mahsud is back in Afghanistan leading a gang of kidnappers.

Item two: What about the ones that aren’t cooperating?

     "A detainee who has assaulted [Guantanamo] guards on numerous occasions and crafted a weapon in his cell stated that he can either go back home and kill as many Americans as he possibly can, or he can leave here in a box," the report said. "Either way, it’s the same to him."

If he’s going to leave it up to us, I know which option I’d vote for.

The story closes with this food for thought:

    The capture of these terrorists and others likely deprived al Qaeda of new leaders. "It is likely that many Guantanamo detainees would have risen to positions of prominence in the leadership ranks of al Qaeda and its associated groups," the Guantanamo report said.

As a libertarian, I’m not at all happy with the notion that the President can simply decide to detain someone indefinitely, with no review or appeal.

But…but…but… My fellow libertarians, civil libertarians, ACLU members, and others outraged by the Guantanamo detentions, you’re going to have to offer an alternative other than waving your arms and insisting that we release them all now. If you expect me to take you seriously, that is.

I don’t pretend to have an answer. Maybe there isn’t one, except a reluctant admission that sometimes you have to do something that, judged in a vacuum, would be wrong — but you’re doing it to prevent even greater wrongs.

Does that make me a moral relativist? I don’t think so. Rand argued that there can’t be a conflict between the moral and the practical, properly understood. A rational moral code can’t require you to act in an impractical, quixotic, or self-destructive manner. A similar thought lies behind the contention that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.* Context matters. Consequences matter.

* That phrase is often rendered in quotes and attributed to one of several Supreme Court justices. Slate provides the whole convoluted story here. The original source is Justice Robert Jackson, writing in a 1949 dissenting opinion:

"There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact."

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One Response to “About those Gitmo detainees”

  1. Philip Dryer said

    Torture and water boarding is against the 8th Amendment to the Constitution and the Geneva Convention. Onlly Traitors order the torture of prisoners in war time or EVER. We are not nazis yet but Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George Bush, supported Hitler (so did Joseph Kennedy0. We NEVER become our enemies with their brutality.

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