Wiki dump: asymmetrical suicide, useful dementia and more

Wiki Dump

by digby

Obviously the story of the morning is the Wikileaks Guantanamo documents and the go-to site for links and analysis of all things Wikileaks remains Greg Mitchell's at The Nation.

I'm sure we'll all be sifting through them over the course of the next few days, but there are a couple of articles that stand out right away. The first is this one by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker chronicling some of the reasons the "worst of the worst" were held in Guantanamo over the years:

Here are some of the reasons we’ve held people at Guantánamo, according to files obtained by WikiLeaks and, then, by several news organizations: A sharecropper because he was familiar with mountain passes; an Afghan “because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khost and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver”; an Uzbek because he could talk about his country’s intelligence service, and a Bahraini about his country’s royal family (both of those nations are American allies); an eighty-nine year old man, who was suffering from dementia, to explain documents that he said were his son’s; an imam, to speculate on what worshippers at his mosque were up to; a cameraman for Al Jazeera, to detail its operations; a British man, who had been a captive of the Taliban, because “he was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics”; Taliban conscripts, so they could explain Taliban conscription techniques; a fourteen-year-old named Naqib Ullah, described in his file as a “kidnap victim,” who might know about the Taliban men who kidnapped him. (Ullah spent a year in the prison.) Our reasons, in short, do not always really involve a belief that a prisoner is dangerous to us or has committed some crime; sometimes (and this is more debased) we mostly think we might find him useful.

Sadly, I have a sick feeling that a rather large number of Americans don't have a problem with that.

The New York Times Charlie Savage published a story about the number of suicides at the prison and how vexing they were to the authorities. I was interested to see that a rehash of the old rationalization that suicides are a form of asymmetrical warfare. I wrote a lot about this back in 2006 and 2007 --- the commandant sounded like some kind of cartoon character:

Hey, did you hear about the latest terrorist attack?

A Saudi Arabian detainee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay apparently committed suicide Wednesday, the U.S. military said.

Lest you think I've gone nuts, recall that the US government considers prisoners committing suicide in Guantanamo an act of war. I'm serious. Remember this?

Rear Admiral Harris is adamant that the people in his care are well looked after and are enemies of the United States.

He told me they use any weapon they can - including their own urine and faeces - to continue to wage war on the United States.

The suicide of three detainees, he reaffirmed to me, amounted to "asymmetrical warfare."

The state department disagreed. They saw the Gitmo suicides as a PR tactic:

"Taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good P.R. move," Graffy said of the deaths. Drawing on knowledge gleaned from work "on improving the United States' image abroad, especially in Islamic countries" (a detail The New York Times pulled from her State Department bio), Graffy elaborated on her remarks on the BBC show "Newshour": “It does sound like this is part of a strategy--in that they don't value their own lives, and they certainly don't value ours; and they use suicide bombings as a tactic."

Keep in mind that the reason suicide was considered a form of warfare was because it made the US look bad. The existence of the prison itself, or the fact that huge numbers of innocent people were being held and tortured, some committing suicide was apparently not a big problem.

And it's not going anywhere, apparently because the Obama administration couldn't get its act together to properly handle the situation and didn't have the bandwidth to deal with it because Obama was spending every minute of the day thinking about health care for the first year and a half. That last is interesting because it certainly didn't appear as if he was engaged in the day to day of health care to that extent -- it was supposedly hung up in the Senate for months while the president was attending to other business. (In fact, it has been a huge complaint from just about everyone that he punted to Baucus.) I wonder what the truth is?

Update: Amy Davidson's New Yorker piece wonders what would have happened if they'd gone another way:

Here’s another question: why didn’t Obama declassify these documents himself? His Administration has professed to be frustrated at its inability to convey to the public, early on, why Guantánamo should be closed. (See Eric Holdier’s press conference last month for an example.) Might it have helped if Obama had pointed to close-up pictures of the fourteen-year old, or the taxi driver, and really told their stories? He can be good at that, after all. Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough; maybe, clumsily handled, it could have backfired. But it could have shifted the narrative, and it would have been true. Instead, Obama never effectively challenged the image of Guantánamo as a sort of Phantom Zone of super villains, rather than the humiliating hodgepodge it is. When confronted with scare tactics, his Administration, as the Washington Post recounted in a long piece Saturday, retreated again and again; and then it just gave up. The White House feared the fear itself.

And so, instead, on Sunday the Administration released a statement to “strongly condemn” the leak. It made a point of noting how cautious it had been about the prisoners, and how the Bush Administration had transferred many more of them out of Guantánamo than the Obama Administration had—as if that were a point of pride.

Meanwhile, members of CNN's best political team on television, the conservative Dana Loesch and liberal Cornell Belcher agreed that Wikileaks' release of these documents was terrible (no word on the newspapers that published them) and that they show that the prisoners were very dangerous people who deserved to be there. NPR is reporting that Obama released the worst of the worst. So I assume that's that.