How we treat prisoners

How we treat prisoners
: The 18 Afghanis freed from Guantanamo Bay talk about their captivity:

Seated cross-legged on a floor of the Kabul Police Department jail yesterday, nearly all of the former detainees enthusiastically praised the conditions at Guantanamo and expressed little bitterness about losing a year of their lives in captivity, saying they were treated better there than in three days in squalid cells in Kabul. None complained of torture during questioning or coerced confessions.

After they were set free, however, two men who had remained silent earlier hesitantly began to recount being punished for protesting indignities to their captors. The two both admitted to having been employed by the Taliban as drivers….

”The conditions were even better than our homes. We were given three meals a day — eggs in the morning and meat twice a day; facilities to wash, and if we didn’t wash, they’d wash us; and there was even entertainment with video games,” said Sirajuddin, 24, a taxi driver from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He said he was forcibly conscripted by the militia and captured by a notorious warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who ”sold us to the US.”

Before Kabul jail authorities told the men that they would be released, Sirajuddin said: ”The conditions here are worse than terrible. If we are to be imprisoned, I want to go back to Guantanamo,” he said, banging on a table.

Murtaza, 28, of southern Helmand province, was one of two who said they had received bad treatment. A driver for the Taliban who also fought as a soldier, his problems at Guantanamo began, he said, when he protested the confiscation of his Koran. US guards piled everyone’s copies on the floor and then sat on them, he said….

  • Balbulican

    It is indeed gratifying to note that people judged “no danger to society” and who, by this account, appear to have been low level bureaucrats or conscripts, were only confined for 16 months without formal charges or access to lawyers, and not beaten very much at all. What on earth are all the complaints about?

  • Herreshoff

    “If we didn’t wash, they would wash us” hardly sounds pleasant. I am NOT a bleeding heart, and fully supported our attack on Afghanistan, but I don’t think our holding of people who we apparently learned were nobodies months ago is a shining moment in US history. I also suspect that the praise bestowed on their captors might be attributed to fear of being reincarcerated. Just one man’s opinion, of course.

  • They said they were drivers? (Except in the last paragraph, where one of them “also fought as a soldier.”) Well let them go then. This sort of defense was also tried at Nuremberg. They’d haul in some SS guard who worked at, say, Buchenwald and he would say, “Nein, I did ze dry cleaning.”
    And you know what? The judges let ’em go every time!

  • Balbulican

    Floyd, doesn’t the fact that they were, in fact, released, suggest that they may not have been guilty of anything?

  • ct

    They were held for interrogation and information gathering. They were POWs. They were released when it was deemed appropriate to release them. Notice they’re still put in a jail once they get back home. If they’d been released earlier they probably would have been killed (if they didn’t join right up again with some Taliban or terrorist group). Recall why they were detained, and don’t play this game of taking things out-of-context after the fact.

  • Balbulican:
    Not if they’re prisoners of war rather than criminals, in which case we can keep them until the end of hostilities. Last I heard, al Qaeda hasn’t surrendered.
    American troops in Iraq have been letting many Iraqi prisoners go on the assumption that they were done with fighting and would head home (and because it’s a pain to have to feed them and keep an eye on them). That does NOT mean that it would be in any way unethical to keep them until the end of hostilities. It’s our choice.
    I suspect it might be a violation of the Geneva Convention to allow prisoners to go unwashed indefinitely, even if they want to. After all, aren’t we under some obligation to provide clean, louse-free housing and not endanger the prisoners’ health? Hard to do that when some of them refuse to wash.

  • Ed

    “..there was even entertainment with video games,” said Sirajuddin…
    Video games? That CAN’T be true.

  • Yeah, but it was only Playstation 1. And the forced bathing didn’t include hand release. Both of which, if I’m not mistaken, are violations of the Geneva Conventions.

  • Dark Avenger

    At least they weren’t subject to the horror of GameBoy in B&W.

  • Balbulican

    CT and Doc Weevil:
    I may have missed something here, but I was under the impression that Messrs. Powell and Rumsfeld declared emphatically that they were NOT POWs (which is why they were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention).
    Sixteen months does seem like a long time to imprison men who were neither POWs nor criminals, and who have been found to represent no danger.

  • ct

    I wouldn’t have cared if they’d killed them in Afghanistan. Don’t f*** with America. Or, at least, choose your enemies more wisely…

  • Balbulican:
    I was giving them the benefit of the doubt. They’re certainly not ordinary criminals. (I’m told that British troops in Ulster refer to muggers and bankrobbers as “ordinary decent criminals”.) They are at best prisoners of war, who can be kept until hostilities cease, i.e. until Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar or whoever’s running al Qaeda and the Taliban now surrender and ceases fighting. No sign of that.
    If they were fighting in a war while violating the Geneva Convention, i.e. if (as is likely) they were not wearing uniforms, or were pretending to surrender and then trying to kill their captors, or were using human shields, etc., then they are not protected by the G.C. themselves, and we can do whatever we want to them. Three meals a day and tropical breezes doesn’t sound that bad to me. Like pirates, terrorists can be executed without trial.

  • Balbulican

    Got your point, Doc W., and I understand the distinction you’re drawing. My point is, some seem…from the limited description provided in the article…to have been neither POWs, criminals, nor terrorists…just people caught up in the sweep.

  • [Dr. Weevil quote] “we can do whatever we want to them.”
    Hell man, the U.S. did exactly that. They not only violated international law but they held these prisoners in another country to get around U.S. law. Face it, the U.S. grabbed whoever they thought was a good catch (including some farmers and taxi drivers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time), locked them up without charges being laid, interrogated them outside of the legal system, found out after a year or so that they had screwed up and then cut them loose….. ooops, sorry buddy – “go home and see if you can find your family or something ‘eh?”
    These are the stories that will be told in the Middle East and this is what they will remember about U.S. fairness and justice.

  • ct

    “These are the stories that will be told in the Middle East and this is what they will remember about U.S. fairness and justice.”
    Demons will hate no matter what you do. Put the fear of God into them, or the next best thing and let them shiver in eternal anger.

  • stageleft:
    I think you mean some people who CLAIM “to be farmers and taxi drivers” and ALLEGE that they “happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time”. As I recall, six or seven prisoners were released in the first month: they were quite possibly picked up by mistake. It looks to me like these are actual Taleban or al Qaeda members (and therefore legitimate prisoners) who have been released because they seem unlikely to take up arms against the U.S. again. Do you have any evidence against that other than the ex-prisoners’ denials?
    As for the “international law” part, you don’t know what you’re talking about. People who routinely violate the Geneva Convention (e.g. by dressing as civilians to shoot at our soldiers) are not protected by it. We could have lined them up and shot them. Sending them to Guantanamo and providing three meals a day and video games instead is not a violation of international law, it is going way above and beyond the requirements.

  • balbulican

    Quote: “It looks to me like these are actual Taleban or al Qaeda members (and therefore legitimate prisoners) who have been released because they seem unlikely to take up arms against the U.S. again.”
    I’m afraid I didn’t get that out of this article at all. What it actually says is:
    “US authorities said they had no evidence to continue holding them.” That’s generally called “innocence”, in law. It also says:
    “Colonel Roger King, defended the screening process for suspects, but acknowledged that there is ”potential for mistakes to me made . . . just like in the US, police sometimes arrest the wrong guy.”
    This seems to me the most likely scenarario. In which case, my original observation stands…sixteen months is a fairly long time to imprison an innocent man.

  • Michael

    So, Balbulican, just how long should a person that knowingly works as a “low level bureaucrat” for an organization that support the killing thousands of American citizens be kept? Further, would you propose we let them post bail and then drop them off at the nearest cave with an ankle bracelet to page them if we find out their actually mass murderers? Come on; you know that if we did let them go and we later found out one of the guys we let go was a planner of the attacks and was working on something else, you’d be right there with John Kerry and Howard Dead calling the adminstration inept. It’s a classic Catch 22, and I personally like the side that doesn’t result in thousands of dead American citizens. (You also seem to be missing the point that they DID let them go once they were sure they were not a significant danger, despite the fact no one could have made them.)
    As for the POW/enemy combatant distinction, you are mistaken. You seem to labor under the misimpression that they are “not even POW’s.” You’ve got it backwards. Enemy combatants get LESS protections than POWs, not more. POW status is a privilege that gains you extra rights, which these folks don’t have. We can hold them until hostilities end, which they certainly have not. They unequivocally were NOT found “innocent”; they found that they NO LONGER had reason to hold them. No one seems to doubt that they were part of the Taliban which means we could have kept holding them. We chose not to based on our on risk assesment, not any requirement of any law. Similarly, HAD they received POW status, under the Geneva contention, they still could have been held until the end. It would not have mattered if he was Taliban “sometime fighter but mostly pastry chef.”
    This is not the LA County DA’s office. Remember, the threat isn’t just that they’ll continue to fight in a war; it’s that they’ll come here and kill you, the very person that wants us to let them go. I defy you to find me one country that can credibly claim they would have done things differently in our situation, or even one less risky. Trust me, it’s certainly not France (ask Algeria).

  • Balbulican

    Michael, the Taliban was the government of Afghanistan. The government tolerated the presence of Bin Laden et al. Bad idea. But the government also had departments that ran schools, collected sales tax, managed trade, blah, blah blah. It was a government. It employed several thousand bureaucrats. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of them did not spend their time conspiring against the United States.
    The article contains no suggestion that the released detainees were guilty of anything. Not a hint. Am I right about that? If I’m wrong, point out the quote.
    Am I right in noting that Colonel King, upon their release, acknowledged that mistaken arrests were possible?

  • Actually only 3 countries recognized the Taleban as the government of Afghanistan: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and I think the United Arab Emirates. The rest of the world, and the U.N., recognized the Northern Alliance as the legitimate government, even when they controlled only 10% or 15% of the country. So all those people who talked about how we “invaded” the “sovereign nation” of Afghanistan were wrong as a matter of international law: the recognized government invited us in to help subdue an insurrection that had occupied most of the country for quite a while. In fact, the Taleban seems to have been under the thumb of al Qaeda, so the occupying foreign power was Osama and his buddies.

  • Balbulican

    Not to belabour the point (well, I guess I am belabouring it)…but that government (i.e., the people who administered the delivery of programs and services to most of the country)was still comprised of people who, for the most part, did NOT sit in caves conspiring. And from the article we are commenting on, it seems some of those folks were scooped up by mistake.

  • Danjo

    Dearest Balbulican;
    Ask any arab, muslim if they hate America and see what the answer is. Very noble of you to think that these “NOBLE” people have only a small minority that hate America. The sad truth is that you are living in a dream world. They hate us. Do we try and be the nice guy, (see where its gotten us now) or do we suspect anyone associated with the taliban? I, for one support the idea of the taliban is the enemy and lets treat them like one. When you come up with an easy way to separate the “death to America group” and “I was just working here, didn’t realize they were gassing Jews” group. Please let the world know.

  • Balbulican

    Most esteemed Danjo:
    I think everyone must have a copy of that article that I don’t have. The one I’ve got says these guys were released, that they weren’t charged with anything, and that the man in charge admits that innocent people may have been picked up in error.
    If you’re saying that “hating American” or being an “Arab Muslim” are now offenses that merit 16 months imprisonment and interrogation… umm… well, you have novel and highly individual concept of justice.

  • Danjo

    Dearest Balbulican;
    Yes, I think the world would be perfect if I was in charge. Cough, err..after rereading my post, I have to tip my hat to you. As far as my previous post, “I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee.”
    Smart enough to know when he goofs

  • Balbulican

    No man with that much respect for Canadian beer can ever be said to Goof, my friend.