I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?” in which I provide an overview of the manufactured outrage over the last two weeks regarding the Obama administration’s release, in Qatar, of five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, with particular reference to defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s appearance at a whistle Congressional hearing last week, in which he nevertheless defended the administration’s position.
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As I explain, “lawmakers, with support from large parts of the media, have been waging a sustained attack on the Obama administration … accusing both the president and defence secretary Chuck Hagel of recklessness, incompetence and breaking the law in relation to the exchange.”
These are all claims that I thoroughly address and rebuke — from the disgraceful smearing of Bowe Bergdahl as a deserter, before any official investigation has taken place (which ironically, involves due process being bypassed in Bergdahl’s case as it is for the majority of men at Guantánamo, who have also been judged as guilty without ever being charged or tried), to the lies and distortions about the five released Taliban prisoners.
What I hope will particularly be picked up on is the stance taken not only by myself but also by Jack Goldsmith, former legal adviser to the Bush administration, regarding the end of the US government’s justification for holding prisoners at Guantánamo who were involved with the Taliban as the war in Afghanistan winds down.
In contrast, an argument will, I think, be made for the ongoing imprisonment of those prisoners who can genuinely be regarded as having been involved with Al-Qaeda — and what especially interests me is how few of the men still held at Guantánamo will fit this description.
Of the 149 men still held, 78 have been cleared for release but, shamefully, are still held. Discounting these men, there are 71 others, ten of whom have faced or are facing trials, so the key question concerns the other 61, who, for the most, as I explain in the article, appear to fit the profile of having been affiliated with the Taliban far more than with Al-Qaeda — unless the US seriously wants to argue that, after 12 and a half years of imprisonment without charge or trial, it is still worth making an argument for holding these men because, although they supported the Taliban, they allegedly attended a training camp where, occasionally, Osama bin Laden would come and make a speech.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, after I posted the link to the Al-Jazeera article, Beth Cioffoletti wrote:
Thanks for the support, Beth. Much appreciated.
Kim Chi wrote:
I do Understand the Politics. But Keeping Incarcerated Prisoners when their is really No Fact that can prove any crimes. But by those Prisoners who decided to go on a hunger strike. No so sure that the U.S. Gov’t really took noticed or Even Cared.
Thanks, Kim, for your comments. I suspect very few people in positions of power and responsibility empathise with the victims of lawless policies – like the outrageous indefinite detention program at Guantanamo.
I’m starting to suspect that the controversy over the prisoner swap was exactly what the Obama administration intended; the President can now use his opponents’ attacks on him as an excuse not to free anyone else from Guantanamo. Even if that’s not the case, the controversy will have the perverse effect of portraying Obama (sadly, maybe even causing him to be remembered) as a President who tried to free Guantanamo prisoners, rather than the one responsible for keeping them imprisoned.
Thanks for your thoughts, Jim. I have to say that I think the administration was caught out by the hysteria, and didn’t intend it to prevent the release of prisoners. Now we’ll just have to see what happens in the mid-terms, and with next year’s NDAA. My feeling is that in many ways this manufactured hysteria will blow over, and I certainly hope so, although I do think the administration will need to act before the mid-terms. Obama’s envoys, Cliff Sloan and Paul Lewis, still have 20 cleared prisoners to arrange releases for, and, of course, someone at some time has to address the impasse over the Yemenis by actually putting a few of them on a plane and sending them home.
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