Sunday, 21 December 2008

Who's who in Guantanamo

The Brookings Institution has published a brief, but important, report called The Current Detainee Population in Guantanamo: An Empirical Study which makes for interesting reading. The report notes that since the camp opened in January 2002, the Pentagon has consistently refused to identify those who have been held there.
"We have sought to identify the detainee population using a variety of records, mostly from habeas corpus litigation", say the authors, " and we have sorted the current population into subgroups using both the government's allegations against detainees and detainee statements about their own affiliations and conduct."
The authors say that as of mid-December there were 248 detainees left in the camp - out of a total of around 779 detainees who have passed through since it was opened. Since 2004, when the Pentagon set up a review to evaluate the 558 remaining prisoners, 330 have been transferred or released. Other facts gathered by the Brookings researchers include the following:
1) 81 detainees travelled to Afghanistan for jihad
2) 130 stayed in al-Qaeda, Taliban or other guest/safe houses
3) 169 detainees took military or terrorist training in Afghanistan
4) 84 actually fought for the Taliban, many of them on the front lines against the Northern Alliance
5) 88 were at Tora Bora
6) 71 detainees' names or aliases were found on computers, hard drives, physical lists of al-Qaeda operatives, or other material seized in raids on al-Qaeda safehouses and facilities.
7) 64 detainees were captured under "circumstances - military surrenders, live combat actions, travelling in a large pack of mujahideen, or in the company of senior al-Qaeda figures, for example - that strongly suggest belligerency".
8) 28 detainees served on Osama bin Laden's security detail.

The Brookings Institution says that in order to make more concrete the US government's allegations against each of the present detainees, it has created five broad categories that help illuminate the role that each of them allegedly played in the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other groups.
Looking at the figures this way we see that:
1) 27 were members of al-Qaeda's leadership cadre
2) 99 were lower-level al-Qaeda operatives
3) 9 were members of the Taliban's leadership cadre
4) 93 were foreign fighters
5) 14 were Taliban fighters and operatives.

The problem of what to do with these remaining prisoners will eventually be solved by the new Obama Administration about to enter the White House. The foreign fighters in particular are said to pose a serious problem, although hundreds have been allowed to return home without incident. However, it has always struck me as odd that so many Afghans were held in Guantanamo. It cannot be because they were directly involved in bin Laden's activities. None of them would have been privy to the plans for the 9/11 attacks, not least because many of the Arabs around bin Laden looked down on the Afghans.
It is also unlikely that they were being trained for al-Qaeda operations abroad. Many of them were captured in the final days of the Taliban regime when their leaders deserted them and fled to Pakistan. Some of them were simply regular Taliban fighters involved in fighting the Northern Alliance. Others were Pakistani Pakhtuns sent over the border in a futile gesture of bravado and solidarity.
It is thought that at least another 60 prisoners are due for imminent release and the US has suggested that maybe only up to 80 others will enter into the US legal system following the closure of the remaining prisoner facilities. For some idea of the options, this article by Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith is very useful. Whatever happens, the closure of Guantanamo Bay cannot come quick enough.
Incidentally, if you would like to find out which 'celebrities' have recently visited Guantanamo, you might want to check out this page. If you would like to follow official news on what is happening with the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, you can look here.

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