The Talking Dog

November 25, 2005, Ooops...

Not much else to say about the evidently inadvertent release by an Iraqi guard of Abass Hussein Alwan al-Amry,
a suspected Iraqi bomb-maker
, indeed, among the first if not the first such "insurgent" bomb-maker linked to a roadside bomb by forensic evidence. Mistakes will be made... recall the accounts that 70-90% of those we held at Abu Ghraib were completely innocent of anything. Amidst this aggressive capture net, there follows a rapid-release effort... and, once in a while, if nothing more than a file-notation to the effect of "hold indefinitely-dangerous dude" is taken for the bad-ass prisoners... well, mistakes will happen. In that sense, this is nothing all that unusual: all human systems are not fool-proof, and dangerous prisoners are, on occasion, released unintentionally.

Still, in a world where the United States takes it upon itself to round up whomever it feels like with scant if any due process and then argue it can hold whomever it likes forever and do with whomever it likes whatever it likes... perhaps we should look at some examples of the omniscience of such a system, and whether it justifies the omnipotence the system claims for itself...

One might want to look at, say, the United States' own decision to release Nabil al-Narabh (to Syria no less) a terror suspect who had risen to 27th on our FBI's most wanted list.

Or, as I learned during my interview with Joshua Dratel, attorney for Guantaimo Bay detainee David Hicks, that one Mahmoud Habib, an Australian national suspected of being an Al Qaeda hand-to-hand combat instructor, and quite possibly an instructor for the 9-11 highjackers, was released to Australia, just ahead of his lawsuit challening his previous "rendition" to a friendly neighborhood cooperative nation for "interrogation" prior to his sojourn in Cuba.

One might, say, look at the big picture, and ask if, given all of these rather serious mistakes, if maybe we should, oh... ask some questions? Just asking...


...recall the accounts that 70-90% of those we held at Abu Ghraib were completely innocent of anything.

TD! The "account" you reference was a claim by the International Committee of the Red Cross that "Certain CF military intelligence officials..."

Stop there. I like that! Certain CF military intelligence officials. God only knows what some unnamed intelligence official from some unnamed country said to some unnamed ICRC staffer! Oh, that's reliable. Never mind that the ICRC did nothing whatsoever to verify the truthfulness of the estimate, and that the Pentagon strenuously denies it. But someone supposedly said it, so it's taken as gospel truth. Continuing on...

"...told the ICRC that in their estimate between 70% and 90% of the persons deprived of liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake."

This doesn't even say those held at Abu Ghraib, or any other prison for that matter, were innocent. Every last one of the Abu Ghraib prisoners could be guilty as far as this statement goes. Persons "deprived of liberty" could mean anyone detained, however briefly, during the prosecution of the war and released without ever setting foot in Abu Ghraib.

Posted by Lawrence at November 25, 2005 12:36 PM

I give you the Taguba Report.

The general used a figure of not less than 60% of those held at Abu Ghraib to be of no intelligence value, i.e., the standard by which they should have been released. (Yes, I am aware of the flaws in even that analysis, particularly as far as the "crimes against the coalition" or some such figure is included, and that some of those 60% were "guilty" of something... though the large numbers of women and children held at Abu Ghraib cuts the other way also.) Let's just say...

You're missing the point: the actual percentage of people who shouldn't have been picked doesn't matter once we can all agree it was well above zero. Our inability to afford basic due process is the issue.

We are willy nilly picking up people we shouldn't be picking up and allowing the release (sometimes by escape, sometimes by simply releasing them) of people we damned well should be holding.

And the cost of all this to our moral authority (not to mention our seeming inability to hold on to bad guys) is extending this war. And that is not good.

Posted by the talking dog at November 25, 2005 8:01 PM

...the actual percentage of people who shouldn't have been picked doesn't matter once we can all agree it was well above zero.

Yes, I'm sure it's above zero, as is the percentage of people in American prisons who are innocent. That doesn't mean we shouldn't arrest people suspected of crimes.

Our inability to afford basic due process is the issue.

It depends on what you consider basic due process. The Gitmo detainees, who without doubt do not fall under the Geneva Accords, have due process through the military justice system. I don't believe they should have access to our federal courts, but the USSC may disagree. And Iraqis detained in Iraq have access to Iraqi due process. Didn't US soldier's just last week liberate some abused Sunnis being held in an illegal Iraqi prison?

There have also been recent stories about released detainees who've been picked up fighting again. That may be inevitable, but it also tends to show that we try not to hold people for no reason whatsoever. Yet we get it from both sides: those who complain we lock up innocent people without concern and those who complain we release people we should be holding.

Posted by Lawrence at November 27, 2005 5:31 PM

Well, certainly mistakes happen; both the wrong people picked up and the wrong people let go. Indeed, they are inevitable in something as massive as the Iraq campaign. BUT... it wouldn't be nearly as hard if the United States chose to do what it usually had done in every conflict except this one-- set a goal to act as the gold standard in its treatment of those it captures. The war on terror really isn't a greater existential threat to our existence than, say, World War II or the Cold War, when we managed to maintain basic standards. (Frankly, I regarded Soviet ICBMs obliterating me off the planet as far, far more troublesome. And I worked one block across the Street from the WTC on 9-11, as I do now. The rationale for our sudden inability to follow our own rules is more political tactics than military tactics. I sincerely doubt the military would deviate in an area such as this that presents this kind of risk to captured personnel on its own.)

The Gitmo detainees, who without doubt do not fall under the Geneva Accords? I daresay there's a fair to middling amount of doubt on that to go around, starting right here with my interview of Neal Katyal, attorney for detainee Salim Hamdan, and with the Supreme Court of the United States, who has agreed to accept review of the Hamdan case. There's sufficient doubt so that the Supreme Court will resolve that doubt for us (after which, we hope, there will be less doubt, one way or the other).

FWIW (and I would agree that what it's worth is "not much") we have ex-interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi calling the intra-Iraqi handling of prisoners as barbarous as in Saddam's day. While that's doubtless an exaggeration... and we would hope a serious one... this is not where we'd like to be nearly three years after "liberation".

Posted by the talking dog at November 27, 2005 11:33 PM

A couple final thoughts: 1) We *do* have rules and basic standards governing military tactics and treatment of detainees; and 2) The Gitmo detainees do not qualify for the Geneva Accords under the explicit terms of the Accords themselves (the USSC is not deciding this issue -- as there's none to decide -- it's deciding something altogether different with the Hamdan case).

Posted by Lawrence at November 28, 2005 8:29 AM

Upon further review... the USSC apparently will decide a Geneva-related issue in Hamden after all. But since al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists do not qualify for POW status under any reasonable reading of the Accords, I predict the quickest review since the Court denied John Wayne Gacy's appeal.

Posted by Lawrence at November 28, 2005 8:50 AM