McClatchy is running an excellent series this week on US overseas detention centers, focusing on the abuse, carelessness, and mismanagement that have encouraged global terrorism rather than deterred it. What’s new here are the details: the news organization accumulated eight months worth of interviews, collected a number of primary source documents, and put together in-depth profiles of recently-released detainees. The specifics of these men’s stories take on additional significance in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on detainees’ habeas rights: Due process seems a lot more important when you realize that every day an innocent person spends in Guantanamo is essentially an al Qaeda recruitment opportunity. Things are so bad that even the former US commander of the camp acknowledges that we’ve more or less enabled our very own terrorist sleeper cell:
Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, until recently the commanding officer at Guantanamo, acknowledged that senior militant leaders gained influence and control in his prison.
“We have that full range of (Taliban and al Qaida) leadership here, why would they not continue to be functional as an organization?” he said in a telephone interview. “I must make the assumption that there’s a fully functional al Qaida cell here at Guantanamo.”
The commander’s assumption, if true, adds another layer of complexity to the detainees’ status—how do we handle the release of someone who was innocent of terrorism when we picked them up, but is now eager to work for al Qaeda? If, as alleged, such cases are common at Guantanamo, then the administration has created a self-justifying system that will be extremely difficult to disrupt. Unless we completely overhaul that system, we’re stuck with this Catch-22.