Michael Goldfarb on Guantánamo and the “War on Terror”: “we’re making these things up as we go along”


Radio 5 Live logoA week ago, I was invited by the BBC to be a guest on Richard Bacon’s show on Radio 5 Live as part of an hour-long discussion about whether or not the six Guantánamo detainees charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks would receive a fair trial. The other guest was Michael Goldfarb, the online editor of WorldwideStandard.com, the Weekly Standard’s Blog, who subsequently published a post that attempted to undermine my point of view, by mentioning one of my articles, published on CounterPunch (and here with links), in which I reported claims made by one of the Guantánamo detainees, Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, that he has been infected with AIDS during his imprisonment at Guantánamo.

Mr. Goldfarb was dismissive of the article, which came as no surprise to me, because it also revealed — as confirmed by the Chief Medical Doctor at Guantánamo — that Mr. al-Ghizzawi has contracted tuberculosis during his imprisonment, and that he also suffers from hepatitis B, which was dormant before his arrival at the prison.

Those who read the full article would also have discovered that Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s case is central to complaints made in sworn statements last year by military officers, who worked on the tribunals at Guantánamo, that the entire system was rigged, through the use of generalized and often generic information masquerading as specific intelligence against individual detainees, to rubber-stamp the administration’s untested claims that everyone who had ended up in US custody — however randomly — was an “enemy combatant,” who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

After the members of his first tribunal decided, based on the “paucity and weakness of the information provided both during and after the CSRT hearing,” that there was “no factual basis” for concluding that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was an “enemy combatant,” — and that, by extension, it was probable that the true story, as Mr. al-Ghizzawi explained, was that he was a shopkeeper, married to an Afghan woman, who was seized by Afghan bounty hunters and sold to the US military — the US military dismissed the members of his first tribunal and held a second, secret tribunal in which they concluded that he was an “enemy combatant” after all.

In the interests of shedding some light on Mr. Goldfarb’s opinions, I reproduce below a transcript of part of last Monday’s show, in which he helpfully described how, after 9/11, the US administration turned its back on 232 years of the law, replacing it with an ad-hoc system in which, to quote his exact words, “we’re making these things up as we go along.”

About twenty minutes into the show, Richard Bacon discussed the greater transparency that would be involved in the cases if they were transferred to US federal courts.

Richard Bacon: Why can’t they be tried in front of a jury in a federal court?

Michael Goldfarb: Well, frankly, there are security issues. You know, we’re not going to expose American citizens to sitting on a jury for al-Qaeda members […]

Richard Bacon: […] So a terror suspect has never been tried in the United States in a civil or federal court?

Michael Goldfarb: Terror suspects have been tried in a federal court …

Richard Bacon: Well, why was that jury exposed to them?

Michael Goldfarb: I mean, if you arrest someone in this country, we’ve dealt with these things differently. The fundamental issue here is that we’re making these things up as we go along. There was no way to do this. […]

Andy Worthington: It’s an extraordinary confession that “we’ve been making this up as we go along.” That’s exactly what seems to have been happening since 9/11 in terms of the detention, interrogation and prosecution of these detainees. You know, what interests me is the issue that you raised of successful prosecutions that took place in the United States of terrorists before 9/11, and this is something that seems to be missed out on, because we’re led to believe that the world started anew on 9/11. Whereas in fact, those of us who have longer memories will remember that there were the African embassy bombings and that there were earlier events, and that there were successful prosecutions.

Richard Bacon: And those juries were exposed to terrorists?

Andy Worthington: Yes, exactly, and it goes deeper than that …

Michael Goldfarb: And that really worked out to prevent 9/11, didn’t it? That really worked out to stymie the onslaught of these terrorists …

Richard Bacon: Are you saying that it somehow contributed to 9/11?

Michael Goldfarb: I’m saying it was an ineffectual response to terrorism, to simply put them in civilian courts and say, “oh, we’re going to treat this as though they’re just criminals like any others.” They’re not criminals like others.

Andy Worthington: I don’t see that that’s an issue at all, and I see that they are criminals like others, actually. And the point I wanted to raise is that there’s an interesting man named Dan Coleman, who was a former FBI interrogator, and he worked with a lot of these terrorist suspects before 9/11, and the interesting thing, the particularly interesting thing about the way Dan Coleman worked, which is germane to the whole thing we’re talking about here, is that he — and other FBI interrogators — said, you might be able to get some tiny bit of information by beating the crap out of somebody, by torturing them, but that is not how to get to dig to the real truth about what’s going on. You do that by building a relationship with the prisoners that you have, and a good interrogator can do that. And then you take them through the court system, because they’re criminals.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post and CounterPunch.

3 Responses

  1. True Blue Liberal » Michael Goldfarb on Guantánamo and the “War on Terror”: “we’re making these things up as we go along” says...

    […] Read more War on Terror […]

  2. Linda G. Richard says...

    ACTION NEEDED NOW! See his attorney’s entry at http://gtmoblog.blogspot.com/
    Below is a “form letter” you can use, please fax/write ASAP! This is very URGENT!
    The Honorable John D. Bates

    United States District Court Judge
    U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
    E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse
    333 Constitution Avenue, Northwest
    Washington, DC 20001
    (202) 354-3433 fax)

    Honorable John Bates;

    I am writing to you today about Abdel Al-Ghizzawi, a detainee who has been in Guantanamo Bay detention facility for over five years. Al-Ghizzawi was sold to U.S. Troops as part of a bounty, he is not a “high value” detainee. Al-Ghizzawi was one of the “no hearings hearings” detainees who had new Tribunals convened in his absence when the initial Tribunals determined that he should never have been determined to have been an enemy combatant. Later in 2005 a new tribunal was conducted that declared him an enemy combatant. In fact, Abdel Al-Ghizzawi never fought with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or anyone else.

    Abdel Al-Ghizzawi has Hepatitis B as well as Tuberculosis. His condition is worsening, and is very grave. On January 28 2008 his attorney H. Candace Gorman filed an emergency motion with the Supreme Court asking the US military to provide urgent medical treatment to Abdel Al-Ghizzawi, as well as access to his medical records. Chief Justice John Roberts denied the motion.

    This is shameful. Our country is supposed to be run by us – the citizens of these United States, we are supposed to be the Government. However, in the past few years we have had very little say in what goes on, and none in how this country treats it’s POWs or detainees. This needs to change. We care what’s done in our name. Our country, while once a beacon of human rights is now one of the worlds worst offenders.

    I ask you to help Abdel Al-Ghizzawi by providing him with the medical care he needs so desperately. I urge you to provide his attorney, H Candace Gorman access to his medical records so that she can assure that he gets the treatment that he needs for his condition.

    The world is watching. Our reputation has been sullied enough. Please act in the best interest of everyone. Give us back our good conscience.




  3. Andy Worthington says...

    After this article was published, I received the following message:

    And the remarks made by the FBI interrogator, Dan Coleman: Couldn’t someone explain that to, not only the Bush administration but also the Israelis.
    Good work…
    Ingrid B.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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