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Thursday, May 14, 2009

File under "political hack"

Last Saturday, May 9, Senator Mitch McConnell gave the convocation address at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. It created a small stir locally -- probably because the Senator did not shy away from controversial political subjects. And his take was purely partisan.

Of course, McConnell was also dead wrong on several key facts. For example, McConnell wants to pretend that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been unique evil-doers:
the current Administration has announced a deadline to close the secure detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within nine months—without having any kind of plan to contain these deadly killers.

“I hope it does not take that step without a plan to make America safer as a result. And I certainly hope it does not transfer these terrorists to American soil. Such a move will likely raise more legal questions than it settles. And it will increase the risk to the American people.

“The men housed at Guantanamo are ruthless killers.
Yet, as Ken Ballen and Peter Bergen reported last October, this is factually incorrect:
...according to the Pentagon itself, only 5 percent of detainees at the prison were ever apprehended by U.S. forces to begin with. And only another 4 percent were ever alleged to have actually been fighting at all.

Why is that? Almost all of the detainees were turned over to U.S. forces by foreigners, either with an ax to grind or, more often, for a hefty bounty or reward. After U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, they doled out rewards of about $5,000 or more to Pakistanis and Afghans for each detainee turned over. Contrary to standard law enforcement practice, the U.S. military accepted the uncorroborated allegations of the award claimants with little independent investigation.

Now, under much pressure, the Pentagon has released more than 500 detainees over the past three years statistics provided to us by the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, zero of the 121 Guantánamo detainees received by the Saudis were deemed dangerous and ineligible for release.

It gets worse. Of those detainees returned to Saudi Arabia from Guantánamo, more than half have been released and are now free, most after spending a period of time in a halfway house designed to promote a smooth return to society. Only six former Guantánamo detainees have been rearrested in Saudi Arabia for any reason—an astonishingly low recidivism rate of less than 9 percent among those released.

Although the Saudi efforts to reintegrate these prisoners into society are certainly commendable, the only reasonable explanation for such a low recidivism rate is that the detainees were never guilty of terrorist acts in the first place.
Don't want to take the word of the Saudis? Consider this:
Information released in May by the Department of Defense further buttresses the Saudi findings of a very low recidivism rate. The department’s list of named released detainees who have subsequently engaged in militant or terrorist activities anywhere in the world shows that 12 have done so, a recidivism rate of just 2 percent. In fact, the Pentagon can cite only six instances in which an inmate released from Guantánamo actually took up arms against the United States. statistics from the Saudi Ministry of Interior, corroborated by the Pentagon’s own findings, show that the overwhelming majority of individuals detained at Guantánamo not only were not terrorists, but were likely innocent of any crime.
McConnell also played fast and loose with the facts about the interrogation memos recently declassified by the Obama administration:
It was a mistake for the administration to reveal to al Qaeda terrorists the interrogation methods they can expect to face if captured. Releasing those memos has made America less safe.
As I've blogged before, scholars have been studying American torture techniques for years. They are well-known already.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel pointed out that the Bush administration had already disclosed most of the techniques:
Let me say this, one of the reasons the president was willing to let this information out was that much of the information was already out. So if they're saying that you've basically exposed something, it's been written . Go get the New York Review of books. It's there. So the notion that somehow we're exposing something -- it's already out. In fact President Bush let a lot, a lot of this information out. So the notion that somehow this is all of a sudden a game-changer, doesn't take cognizance that its already in the system and in the public domain. Therefore, it's not new.
If you don't believe Emanuel, look at this article in the October 4, 2007, NY Times. Or this piece from June 2004 in the NY Review of Books.

Numerous Bush officials were questioned about waterboarding by Congress over the past few years, especially after the November 2006 Democratic victory. John Kerry opposed Bush Attorney General Mike Mukasey over this issue in 2007.

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