The Worst of the Worst?

THE WORST OF THE WORST?….Are the detainees at Guantanamo Bay really the “worst of the worst”? Some surely are, but for the most part we really don’t know. And the reason we don’t know is that we know almost nothing about most of the detainees in the first place.

Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University has co-authored a study of 517 reviews written by the government for use at Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings, and the results of the study mirror the findings of Corine Hegland’s recent investigation for National Journal. The full report is here, and as the chart on the right shows, one of the study’s findings is that only 11% of the Guantanamo prisoners were captured on the battlefield by coalition forces. A full two-thirds of them were rounded up in Pakistan and turned over to the United States, likely in response to flyers like this distributed by the United States:

Get wealth and power beyond your dreams….You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qaida and Taliban murders. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.

The Seton Hall study also concludes that fewer than half of the Guantanamo detainees are accused of any hostile action against the United States, and that evidence of association with al-Qaeda or the Taliban is often laughably weak. An awful lot of these prisoners have simply been turned in for reward money or else done nothing worse than be conscripted into low-level positions in the Taliban.

Figuring out what to do with prisoners captured in Afghanistan presents a real problem, and civilian style courtroom trials are simply not in the cards for many of these people. At the same time, the limbo we’ve placed them in is simply not something that Americans should accept, especially for the half or more of the prisoners who are known to be either innocent or essentially harmless.

Even critics of the administration can probably agree that a certain amount of confusion over the status of the Guantanamo detainees might have been excusable for the first year or so. But four years? It’s long past time to do the right thing and give these men fair hearings, followed by release for those who have never been near a battlefield and have never fought against the United States.