Who's In Gitmo?

National Journal has done us all a service with fresh reporting on who is actually detained in Guantanamo Bay, and what happens to them once they're there. Key pieces here, here, and here. In June of last year, president Bush said "these are people picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan." At the same time, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was even more categorical: "These are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield." No big surprise that these statements are untrue. Stuart Taylor summarizes the piece thus:

* A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, let alone on "the battlefield in Afghanistan" (as Bush asserted) while "trying to kill American forces" (as McClellan claimed).

* Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members.

* Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.

* The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by villagers of highly doubtful reliability.

And how have these innocent men been treated? Taylor again:

[D]etainees who had no information - because they had no involvement in or knowledge of terrorism - have been put through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions" in a systematic effort to break their wills that is "tantamount to torture," the International Committee of the Red Cross complained in a confidential report to the government, excerpts of which The New York Times obtained in November 2004. The Pentagon responded then that Guantanamo was an oasis of "humane" treatment.

As readers are aware, I am no fan of Islamism and support aggressive execution of the war on terror. But I do not believe we should be detaining people without due process, abusing and torturing detainees, and prompting dozens of prisoners to go on hunger-strike because of the complete hopelessness of their situation. As Jon Henke reminds us, we have principles in war-time: no self-censorship to appease religious thugs; no torture or abuse of detainees. You cannot defend freedom while extinguishing it at the same time. I fail to see why this is so hard for so many to appreciate.