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March 17, 2006
Gitmo Document Analysis

As part of Cap'n Ed's Gitmo document study, I volunteered to examine one set of hearing transcripts.

ARB (Administrative Review Board) Transcripts #1, the document set assigned to me, was 202 pages of documents which were unclassified and had the "For Official Use Only" markings stricken. The documents give details of 33 hearings of the military panel which decides whether each particular Guantanamo detainee ought to be released, or should continue being detained.

What the documents I reviewed do not contain is the actual evidence, either classified or unclassified, against the detainee. The hearings reviewed were held, in part, so that the detainee might have an opportunity to make the case that he ought to be released.

In each hearing, the detainee had a representative to assist him in making his case, and a translator was present.

The documents I reviewed thus contained only

  • procedural notes (example: "the Presiding Officer read the hearing instructions to the Detainee and confirmed that the Detainee understood the process.")
  • references to other documents (ex.: "the Designated Military Officer presented Exhibit DMO-1, the Unclassified Summary of Evidence to the Administrative Review Board.")
  • the detainees' statements, written, verbal or both
  • questioning by the "prosecutor" (the "Designated Military Officer") or by the panel of officers making up the Administrative Review Board.

For the purposes of this exercise, I operated under some assumptions:
  • that the translations were accurate,
  • that the detainee would naturally try to put the best possible spin on any statement he made,
  • that the detainee's defense counsel (the "Assisting Military Officer") was acting as a good faith representative of the detainee, and
  • that the evidence against the detainee (classified and unclassified, referred to but not actually contained in these documents), if unrefuted, would warrant continued detention.

This last point is most important, and means that in the absense of any other evidence my default judgement would be to continue detention.

In matters of national security, I am disposed to believe the prosecution. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I was a soldier, and I had a pretty high level security clearance. If that colors my judgement, so be it.

To the results, then. In short: release nine, detain the remaining twenty-four.

Of the 33 hearings detailed in the document set, in sixteen instances the detainee refused to attend his own hearing or to provide a written statement on his own behalf. Because they refused to defend themselves, I went with the default decision to retain them.

Eight additional detainees who chose to argue their cases I deemed worth keeping at Guantanamo. "Yes, I assaulted the guards here, repeatedly" is not the kind of testimony that is going to put you on the fast track to release. Additionally, a number of the statements of these eight were "internally self-contradictory." Bluntly, their stories were changing from one minute to the next. They were lying.

In nine instances, if there was any credibility whatsoever to the detainee's testimony, release might be warranted. Some say they never fought against US forces, other say they did but were regular soldiers, not Al Qaeda. I gave them every benefit of the doubt, but again it must be emphasized: I have not seen the evidence against them.

The very first transcript I read, for instance, was the hearing of a detainee who was 16 years old when captured. Taken at face value, I thought that would be reason to release him. Reading his statement made me think of the 15- and 16-year-old schoolboys who in 1945 were conscripted into the Volkssturm. But bear in mind: there were also fanatical Hitler Youth members in the Volkssturm.

What I'm really trying to get at here is that without the evidence on both sides, including the classified evidence, it is utterly impossible to make a sound judgement of what the detainee's status ought to be. How the people who conducted the original survey arrived — with any confidence — at the results they achieved by examining these same documents simply beggars imagination.

Posted by Russ at 06:35 PM, March 17, 2006 in Nat'l Security

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