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Gitmo's Inconvenient Truth

Jamil Dakwar,
Director, ACLU Human Rights Program
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January 17, 2007

On the fifth anniversary of the creation of one of the most notorious detention facilities in the world, the Administration has declared its moral and legal bankruptcy, with the recent attack on lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson.

Stimson, a Rumsfeld appointee, said he found it “shocking” that major American law firms would agree to represent Guantánamo detainees, and predicted that those firms would suffer financially once that representation became known to the firm’s corporate clients.

Although Stimson has distanced himself and claimed his comments “do not reflect his core beliefs,” there is no doubt that they reflect the mindset of the Administration with regard to core human rights values and principles. Meanwhile, in an AP interview, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales joined the chorus and blamed delays in trying terror detainees at Guantánamo on legal challenges filed by their lawyers.

What is truly “shocking” is the inconvenient truth about Guantánamo. Based entirely upon the United States Government’s own documents, research undertaken by the Seton Hall University School of Law has revealed striking data regarding the profile of the Guantánamo detainees (pdf, 467 kb). The following data is largely ignored and often hidden from Americans. Among the data revealed by the Report:

  • Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody.
  • 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 capture of suspected enemies.
  • 55% of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.
  • Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.
  • The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that are, in fact, not on the Department of Homeland Security’s terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably.

Throughout the Bush administration and the 109th Congress, the Constitution and its guarantees have been severely curtailed and redefined. America’s standing in the world is the lowest it has ever been. Those who are labeled “enemy combatants” lose many rights including habeas corpus, with the passage in October of the Military Commissions Act.

The abuse of prisoners and their inability to challenge their detention is a stain on America’s legacy of liberty and justice for all. It is not too late for Americans and their representatives to right the wrongs that have been committed and finally confront this inconvenient truth.

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