In response to a study showing that most of the Guantánamo detainees were not a threat to the United States, the military commissioned a study through the West Point terrorism center to make the opposite case. And the center did. Today's New York Times reports:
It paints a chilling portrait of the detainees, asserting that publicly available information indicates that 73 percent of them were a "demonstrated threat" to American or coalition forces. In all, it says, 95 percent were at the least a "potential threat," including detainees who had played a supporting role in terrorist groups or had expressed a commitment to pursuing violent jihadist goals. The study is based on information from detainees' hearings in 2004 and 2005.
The earlier report, done by Seton Hall University School of Law, found that the military had designated only 8 percent of the detainees as al-Qaida fighters and that 55 percent were not thought to have committed any hostile acts against the United States.
The timing of the release of the new report is interesting: According to the Times, the administration is testifying before Congress today about Guantánamo.
But regardless of this new study, there seems to be little doubt that the Guantánamo detainees are anything but the worst of the worst. The Center for Constitutional Rights has documented in great detail that the U.S. swept up many innocent or low-level grunts for a variety of reasons in the early days of the Afghanistan campaign and threw them in Guantánamo on the thinnest of pretexts. (And the fact alone that there have been many releases, mostly due to pressure from allies, that resulted in prisoners being set free immediately upon release indicates that many of those who have been incarcerated were never particularly dangerous to the United States.)
The Talking Dog blog has interviewed dozens of lawyers involved in the Guantánamo cases over the past few years and they are amazingly consistent on these points. There is very little doubt that while some of these people may have been "jihadists" in the broadest sense of the term, they were mostly simple soldiers or purely peripheral players. Many of them were caught in the tribal crossfire during the early days, when the U.S. was handing out bounties for terrorists and some sharp Afghan operators were making a financial killing.
And anyway, none of that is actually relevant to the fact that the U.S. cannot sustain any program that relies on the "war on terrorism" being "won" before normal international law and human rights can apply. Terror will never sign an armistice agreement, so these "wartime" measures will be permanent unless they are completely repudiated. The next government must put an end to the entire extra-constitutional legal framework of the Bush administration's war on terror and deal rationally with the question of how to handle prisoners in an age of terrorism. I'm partial to the justice system myself, but that's just me.