Monday, April 25, 2011

More Guantanamo leaks

This morning the New York Times has published a set of stories based on leaked secret documents that describe the horrendous morass the Bush administration created with its policy of sweeping up random Afghans and Arabs that somebody thought might be terrorists and warehousing them at Guantanamo. The Guantanamo Files stories are well worth reading, even the sensational hook about how a Libyan rebel we're now cozy with is a former "medium to high risk" inmate.

It's worth having the story fleshed out further. We've known for a long time that so-called "intelligence" personnel from U.S. spook agencies who apparently didn't speak the languages or have much notion of the cultures they were encountering "evaluated" these guys and many were held for years for no discernible purpose and without any judicial process to determine why they were there. No wonder a few of them later have done awful things. As the Times points out, the government's contention that 25 percent of them have "returned to the battlefield" (and it is not clear if that includes denouncing their treatment by the U.S.) is an awful lot less than the 80-90 percent of U.S. convicts who "re-offend."

In my opinion, any member of the legal profession who abetted Guantanamo's grotesque imitation of legality should be barred from further lawyering. They were tested on their professional ethics and they flunked. Some of the few heroes in all this were the military lawyers assigned to individual prisoners who have bravely contested the system, as well as the human rights lawyers who kept the captives from being completely disappeared.

I remember thinking as early rumors of U.S. mistreatment of prisoners, black sites, and Guantanamo began to circulate, "this stuff is going to come out."

Well, it has, repeatedly. And the current disclosures, apparently more of the Wikileaks trove (though the Times is cagey about that), show again just how fast information escapes in the current technical environment.

Last year I re-read William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which I hadn't looked at in over 40 years. His preface explains how he came to write this monumental volume in the mid-1950s.

... [my] personal experience [reporting from pre-war Berlin] would not have led me to attempt to write this book had there not occurred at the end of World War II an event unique in history.

This was the capture of most of the confidential archives of the German government .... Never before, I believe, has such a vast treasure fallen into the hands of contemporary historians. Hitherto the archives of a great state, even when it was defeated in war and its government overthrown by revolution, as happened to Germany and Russia in 1918, were preserved by it, and only those documents which served the interests of the subsequent ruling regime were ultimately published....

The kind of disclosure that Shirer found so unprecedented is on its way to becoming commonplace. That seems a good thing. Governments should be looking over their shoulders, aware that the conduct they want to keep secret is likely to be revealed. They hate it; the Obama administration is actually even more diligent in seeking to punish leaks than the last bunch. Hoping to hide their abuses seems to go with the territory of holding power.

But this stuff comes out.

Photo from the NYT, by Louie Palu/Zuma Press.

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