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Closing Guantanamo Bay prison camp ends a deal with the devil

All the hyperventilation was completely predictable. After President Obama announced the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp within a year, with the possibility of bringing terror suspects to detention facilities within the United States, Republican leaders raced to the microphones.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor intoned: "Most families neither want nor need hundreds of terrorists seeking to kill Americans in their communities." Other Republican mouthpieces served up similar dire warnings.

The argument is bizarre since numerous convicted terrorists and al-Qaida conspirators are imprisoned in the United States and have been for years, with no security issues. No escapes, no targeted attacks by al-Qaida. Nor has Guantanamo been attacked, by the way.

Their latest bugbear is former Guantanamo detainee Said Ali al-Shihri, who was repatriated to Saudi Arabia and is now a leader of al-Qaida's Yemeni branch.

Al-Shihri is the conservative "gotcha!" for the position that President Bush's strategy was correct — even though al-Shihri was released by Bush — that anyone suspected of terror activities should be denied a fair opportunity to contest those claims and should simply be locked away forever. Otherwise dangerous elements will be unleashed.

More than 500 Guantanamo detainees have been released so far with about another 60 of the remaining 245 approved for release. In the seven years since Guantanamo was established, the Pentagon reports that only 18 released detainees have participated in attacks, while another 43 are "suspected" to have returned to fight — although some of those categorized as suspected have reportedly simply made anti-American statements.

That's between a 4 and 12 percent recidivism rate, compared with 65 percent for U.S. state prisoners. Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't seem at all concerned, saying at a recent briefing that it's not a "big" percentage.

This tiny rate also indicates that President Bush wrongly imprisoned hundreds of men who were not dangerous — a fact that also significantly impacts our national security, inflaming Muslim anger.

The story of one such Guantanamo prisoner, Mohammed Jawad, is particularly heartbreaking, both for him and for our national soul.

Jawad's ordeal is told by his former military prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and a decorated veteran of Bosnia, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, who left the military rather than continue as, what he called, Jawad's "persecutor."

In an affidavit filed in January in federal court on behalf of Jawad's release, Vandeveld describes how he was initially enthusiastic about prosecuting Jawad before a military commission for tossing a grenade and injuring two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002. Jawad was arrested immediately after the attacks by Afghan police and soon confessed in a handwritten statement.

But Vandeveld became increasingly troubled by both the lack of evidence and the level of abuse Jawad suffered at American hands.

According to Vandeveld, Jawad, who was probably about 16 at the time of arrest, had been moved 112 times from cell to cell within two weeks — a sleep deprivation program known as "frequent flier." Jawad was also shoved down a stairwell while hooded and shackled, among other brutalities.

Techniques routinely done to others, as Vandeveld discovered to his disgust. To end his suffering, Jawad tried to commit suicide by bashing his head against the wall over and over.

Vandeveld then found evidence that raised serious doubts about Jawad's guilt, including that Jawad couldn't have written his alleged confession since he was functionally illiterate and the statement was in Farsi, not his native Pashto.

Vandeveld's higher-ups refused to acknowledge the truth; they were out for blood. He concludes by saying that Jawad should be released "for his sake, and for our own sense of justice and perhaps to restore a measure of our basic humanity."

Obama has since sought a halt to all military commission trials, including Jawad's, for at least four months and presumably for good.

Since Obama's moves, Republican leaders have been ringing alarms that "the terrorists are coming!" When the truth is that Obama is simply undoing Bush's deal with the devil. Why can't they for once put aside political opportunism and celebrate that justice and basic humanity have returned?

Closing Guantanamo Bay prison camp ends a deal with the devil 01/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 3:31am]
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