Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The One-Third Doctrine

Ken Silverstein of Harpers asks Dr. Emile A. Nakhleh six questions about the state of the war on terror, and US relations with the Muslim world. By way of background, "Dr. Emile A. Nakhleh served in the CIA for 15 years and retired on June 30, 2006, as the Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, the intelligence community's premier group dedicated to the issue of political Islam."

All six responses to Silverstein's questions are worth a look, but this one in particular stuck out to me in light of the current legislative wrangling in the nation's Capitol [emphasis mine throughout]:

You traveled to Guantanamo in 2002. Were you surprised by what you saw there?

I spent hours talking with prisoners about why they had become jihadists and how they came to Guantanamo. Some of the detainees participated in jihad in Afghanistan, mostly against the Northern Alliance; others did not but were caught in the dragnet—having been at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Even the command down there knew that probably one-third of the prisoners were neither terrorists nor jihadists, and wouldn't have been there if we weren't paying a bounty to Pakistani security forces for every Middle Eastern-looking person they handed over to us. Almost every detainee I spoke to claimed that we paid $5,000 per person. Unfortunately, we treated everyone the same, which led the non-jihadists at Guantanamo to hate us as much as the rest, becoming more hardened in their attitudes toward the US and more disappointed in the American sense of fairness and justice.

One-third is a pretty big number. But it is not the biggest by a long shot. Consider that of the 14,000 prisoners detained by US officials in clandestine, extrajudicial sites over the past three years (that's fourteen thousand!), most of them have been in Iraq. This article tells a part of that story:

Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq.

Many say they were caught up in U.S. military sweeps, often interrogated around the clock, then released months or years later without apology, compensation or any word on why they were taken. Seventy to 90 percent of the Iraq detentions in 2003 were "mistakes," U.S. officers once told the international Red Cross.

I don't suppose the 'non-insurgent' detainees in Iraq developed any fonder impressions of us than did their 'non-jihadist' counterparts at Guantanamo. Many of these innocent prisoners may be eventually released (the lucky ones already have) - but only after being radicalized and developing hardened attitudes that did not exist at all, or at least in such a virulent form, prior to their detention.

Either way, each of these 10,000-14,000 people have family members, friends, tribal relationships, fellow citizens and co-religionists. Each of these detentions sets off a shockwave of animosity. This is not a mere abstraction, or some vague and quixotic appeal to morality in a vacuum (though this should be enough - especially for the Party of good vs. evil, black and whie moral clarity). There are practical, pragmatic repercussions.

Keep these staggering numbers in mind, and recall the very real impact this is having on our ability to appeal to moderates, prospective allies and those not committed to act in a violent manner toward us - yet. Then please consider that George Bush and the media's darling, that "moderate, maverick with integrity," John McCain, are both advocating that we enact laws to officially sanction the indefinite imprisonment of so many innocents without so much as a right to know why they are being held.

That is the Bush/McCain version of America in technicolor. And it ain't pretty.

(via Kevin Drum)

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