Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Signs of Life: Human Rights Groups Contest Pentagon Report on Guantanamo Bay

Last week, the Pentagon released a report -- commissioned by President Obama -- which concludes that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility complies with the Geneva Conventions. During the Bush administration, human rights activists passionately contended that the treatment of detainees at the facility violated domestic and international law.

The New York Times reports that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International (two vocal critics of Guantanamo Bay) have blasted the report. The organizations played a large role in condemning Bush's policies at the detention facility, and the Center for Constitutional Rights represents several detainees.

Here's a clip from the article:
The Pentagon official who inspected the Guantánamo Bay prison at the behest of President Obama and declared its conditions humane described himself Monday as a “fresh set of eyes” who had been given free rein to go about his work.

But detainees’ lawyers and human rights groups ridiculed the 85-page report that the official, Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, sent to the White House this weekend. They called it a public relations gesture by the new administration to try to quiet criticism of the prison while officials work to close it within a year.

“There is no basis to believe, other than his say-so, that this was an independent report,” said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Coming in the early days of the Obama administration, the exchange was notable for its similarity to the back-and-forth during the Bush years over what the Guantánamo prison is really like.
The article reports that the Pentagon prepared the study by conducting "random visits and interviews with detainees, guards, interrogators and commanders." Also, the author, Admiral Patrick Walsh, "is the vice chief of naval operations, and the prison is on a naval base at the southeastern tip of Cuba." These factors undermine the credibility of the study. The article reports that human rights attorneys have released their own study based on interviews with their clients; the human rights report makes dramatically different findings than the Pentagon study.

I wonder how "liberal" bloggers who have accused progressive critics of Obama's terrorism-related policies of being anti-liberal will react (if at all) to the latest news.


Jason Papanikolas said...


Do you where I can find a copy of lawyers' report?

I'd be interested in seeing how the prisoners' (I mean disinterested third-parties, independent of any agenda) account differs from the account of the Deputy CNO's.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Jason - I could find it. Prisoners know that they and their lawyers are powerless over this situation. Lying will not and has not done much for them. I am not saying that they should be trusted, but the federal government has a greater interest in distorting reality. If you are asked to conduct a review of a facility you run to determine whether it violates international and domestic law, don't you think this would create an incentive to distort the truth -- especially when your review is final? That's usually why independent inspectors address issues like this.

No - I have not located the study.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: Jason - that's exactly why the intelligent framers created a system of checks and balances. They did not trust the concentration of judge, jury, lawmaker and prosecutor in one branch.

Jason Papanikolas said...

I don't mean to be facetious, but terrorists are not the same as criminals. Lying about the conditions at Gitmo accomplishes the same political goal that they have always sought: that is, to demonize the United States in the Middle East and turn Islam against the West. At the same time, Amnesty International has devoted a lot of time and resources to developing this meme (whether true or not), so you'll forgive me if take their protest with more than a little grain of salt.

Leaving aside who has the greater interest in lying (which could be argued legitimately either way)and whether or not they have been successful, I believe that the International Red Cross (not to mention at least a couple of Congressmen) has visited the facility on more than one occasion and that their findings roughly dovetail with the government's report.

In the end, I don't know and, frankly, don't care who is correct! All sides have an interest in seeing things through rose-colored glasses. Only history will tell who was right! For my part, I have been given no good reason to trust the terrorists at Gitmo, their lawyers, or their supporters in the human rights movement and the American media.

The blind hysteria that infects much of the reporting from Amnesty International and the Western media has done a great disservice to the cause of human rights! Will we actually believe these watchdog organizations when they find actual, credible, and serious violations? I believe not! And that's something that both liberals and conservatives should be united in railing against.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Jason - your post borders on the same emotion that you condemn in the human rights community. I have spent a lot of time criticizing the Left for not being consistent on these issues, but the Center for Constitutional Rights is not really a part of that criticism. Furthemore, as someone who lacks trust in politicians - particularly where their own criminal liability is at stake - I would rather see an independent investigation. The Red Cross has indeed visited the facility, but the Red Cross does not make its findings public to anyone other than the host country. So you are wrong saying the Red Cross has validated the report. All you have shown is that terrorists want to demonize the US. Ok - but wouldn't the military want to do the exact opposite, giving it an incentive to, um, overlook things as well?

Jason Papanikolas said...

Except that the military has proven itself capable of policing it's own personnel (see Abu Ghraib, Haditha, et al.) It is in the Left's interest to discount the possibility that the military could objectively prosecute violations of the law.

Furthermore, I firmly believe that because they didn't get their pound of flesh from Abu Ghraib (i.e. Bush/Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.) or Haditha (which was an unmitigated prosecutorial disaster), the Left believes that all that the military does is lie! This is not the same U.S. Army that burned My Lai, not even close.

Now, that I've vented, I feel better and can answer your questions:
If you are asked to conduct a review of a facility you run to determine whether it violates international and domestic law, don't you think this would create an incentive to distort the truth -- especially when your review is final?

The question itself presupposes that violations of the law actually took place there under military authority. Now, there might be a legitimate question over how much control the military has of CIA questioning and interrogation practices, but that wasn't the focus of the report or your question.

Again, the military has shown itself quite capable of investigating alleged abuses, so I have no reason to beleive that the military is conducting CYA now (unless you're alleging a vast and ongoing conspriacy), especially since the facility will be closed no matter what the conclusions of the report are.

Ok - but wouldn't the military want to do the exact opposite, giving it an incentive to, um, overlook things as well?

That's one to look at it, I suppose. On the other hand, the DoD and the senior Pentagon leadership appear to understand that this war is as much (if not more) political than military. That's some of those lessons from Vietnam! They recognize that it is not sufficient to just crush the enemy on the battlefield. To win, the United States must convince the Muslim populations of the Middle East that al Qaeda is wrong. How does a cover-up help the military accomplish this goal?

I am not saying that there is absolutely no possibility of bias on the Pentagon's part, but they are acutely aware of the stakes involved, which should tend to mitigate the bias on their part.

Human rights groups and al Qaeda prisoners at Gitmo likewise have an agenda. If the military's report is accepted as fact, their agenda is shown to be a lie (or at the very least a liberal stretch of the imagination).

A question for you: who would you propose conduct an independent investigation? I'm not sure that there is any group that could be independent, and I remain unconvinced that a Presidential Commission would solve that issue to anyone's satisfaction.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I find it amazing that you use Abu Ghraib as an example of the military being forthcoming and policing itself. The matter only got attention after the photos were leaked. And even then, low level officials are the only ones who have received punishment.

Furthermore, Cheney has admitted that the US has engaged in waterboarding and another Bush official admitted that the administration tortured individuals. Many conservatives have argued that torture is fine - in order to extract information. I disagree with this, but this position is at least honest.

Furthermore, you are incorrect in stating that I am distorting the scope of the investigation. Guantanamo Bay is a Naval Base, and the Navy conducted the investigation. Anti-torture laws extend beyond the CIA, and the Geneva Conventions extend beyond interrogation. Besides, the distinction between the CIA and the military is pretty artificial. What's the likelihood that the Navy will implicate the CIA in criminality or vice versa? None.

Finally - your argument is laced with the assumption that people detained at Guantanamo Bay are 1. terrorists and 2. have an agenda against the USA. That's a pretty broad conclusion, especially since only 1 detainee has been convicted of a "crime" and that person only received a sentence of 6 months. People get detained who are not guilty of a crime, and governments abuse power (hence the need for rules in the first place).

The framers of the constitution did not have your faith that our military or any other governmental entity could safeguard freedoms alone. Conservatives and liberals like have shared this view. Perhaps you are allowing the persons making the arguments to cloud your judgment (it really sounds like it). If so, you are just as guilty as they are in their criticism of Bush. Partisanship goes both ways.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Jason - if the administration was not engaging in torutre and all detainees are liars, why did the administration feel the need to write so many memoranda saying torture was legal?

Lunmina said...

Jason Papanikolas is willing to leave it to history to decide! Good luck on that one, given the amount of CHANGES to historical information we find RAMPANT in American versions of history. Actually, things that make the history books only make it there LEGITIMATELY when NON-BIASED historical information can be judged legitimate ONLY when there is corroborative evidence. This type of evidence is difficult to obtain after-the-fact. Therefore, ALL views of an incident are necessary. Now, so why do you believe one source more than another? And does this hesitancy on your part to believe one story over another hinge on whether someone is telling LIES? And you seem to believe that the liars would be the prisoners? We are talking about incidents that happened that were WITNESSED! And you would prefer to believe the jailers over the jailed? Well that tells everyone where you stand! And with your bias right out in front for everyone to see, WHY SHOULD WE LISTEN TO YOU?

Jason Papanikolas said...


I'm confused. Are you being intentionally obtuse or simply calling me a liar?

Here are some questions for you:

1. Has the United States conducted waterboarding at Gitmo? (I honestly don't know.) If yes, was the interrogation conducted by military personnel? If no, then where's the beef?

2. Is the CIA part of the DoD? Does it answer to the Secretary of Defense, any of the uniformed commanders of the various services, and any other military official? Are you saying that military officials are responsible for CIA conduct on their bases, irregardless of the chain of command?

3. Who does the Geneva Conventions cover? (I know the answer, but I'm curious as to your view.)

4. Do prisoners held under the Conventions need to be tried and convicted of a crime? Or can they be held for the duration as it were? (I stipulate that they allow the right to challenge the military's finding of POW status, but the Conventions never state that that challenge must happen in a civilian court.) More fundamentally, are they criminals or terrorists (or enemy combatants, if you prefer)?

5. Did I actually say that all detainees are liars? Or did I actually that detainees have an incentive to lie?

6. You have still ignored my earlier question: who will head up this independent investigation and what are their qualifications? It's a legitimate question, except that no liberal wants to state that the obvious answer is whoever gives the PC conclusion!

Finally, you are simply wrong about the Abu Ghraib timeline. Central Command told reporters about it in January of 2004. The pictures didn't surface until April, AFTER the military had already suspended 17 soldiers and filed charges against 6 of them.

Liberals continue to crack me up with the Abu Ghraib meme. They can't even get the timeline straight, despite the fact that even the NYT and the WaPo admitted that the military had already commenced an investigation prior to the media's interest. The facts bely your assertion on Abu Ghraib and help reinforce my contention that the military has proven its self-policing capability.

That does not mean that there is no oversight. The military is not an entity unto itself (which I never said nor implied). It answers to civilian authorities in the executive and legislative branches. The military justice system is subordinated to the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court (but not the circuit or district level courts). Continued Congressional pressure is what prompted the flurry of memorandum.

I might disagree with the Bush Administration's policy on torture. That said the U.S. military did not conduct said torture and ascribing the actions of the President to the entire military is just plain stupid. He is more than simply the Commander-in-Chief (a fact that conservatives should occassionally remember and stress). To the best of my knowledge, the military has followed the guidelines outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual. Those guidelines do not allow for torture (which is why Obama adopted them for the entire interrogation regime).

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Jason said: Darren:I'm confused. Are you being intentionally obtuse or simply calling me a liar?

Are those the only two options? Once I saw your pop quiz, I decided that we were as close as we could become on this issue. Even if we could find more common ground, it must, alas, happen another day....Thanks for commenting.

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