For Purely Political Reasons There Almost Surely Will Be No Major Release of Prisoners Held at Gitmo and Other Prisons

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A few days
ago Tom Ashbrook, on his radio program “On Point,” had
some radio talking heads (what else does one do on radio?) who were
discussing Guantanamo. One of them said that he thought the Bush
Administration had decided simply to tough out the situation there
(regardless of the increasing uproar about it overseas). There would
be no release of prisoners, in his judgment, under this Administration.
It was too deeply concerned over the repercussions if a released
prisoner (or released prisoners) were later to be found to have
participated in a new act of terrorism against the United States.
Another talking head said that there would be no release of prisoners
because that would mean 400 or 500 additional men would be telling
stories all over the world about American mistreatment. There would
be one released prisoner for every talk show in the world, I think
the joke was. And the stories being told worldwide would create
a massive outcry around the world for Bush, Cheney and company to
be tried before international tribunals for violations of the laws
of war.

Of course,
I would personally add, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the
others would not show up for their trials. So they would have to
be tried in absentia (as would likely also be the case for Bush’s
English poodle). This, I think, would not, for many reasons, pose
a large problem, since there would be much evidence anyway. The
only way to avoid the trials would be for America to bribe foreign
countries not to pursue trials in the same way that we always bribe
them to do our imperial bidding, by foreign aid, military aid, trade
help, etc. But whether that would even work this time, with 400
or 500 men all over the world talking about their experiences at
Gitmo and elsewhere, is subject to question. Equally subject to
question is whether, if the Democrats win in 2008, they would even
be willing to offer such bribes to save the derrieres of Bush, et
al. Indeed, though it wouldn’t happen, wouldn’t it be
ironic and wonderful, were John McCain to win the 2008 election,
if he then refused to attempt the bribes, with his refusal being
payback for what Bush pulled on him in South Carolina?

Ah, the mind
reels at the theoretical possibilities. But let’s forget about
the more far-out possibilities. Let’s focus instead on what
certainly is real. It is ever more widely bruited, and accepted,
that the vast preponderance of the prisoners in Gitmo were no more
than low-level types at most, and some or lots were wholly innocent
– they were simply arrested and turned over to the Americans
by warlords who wanted to collect the large rewards we were offering.
We also know the uproars that resulted when even a few of our former
prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere told their stories to the media
and other governments. What these facts plainly mean, what they
inevitably mean, is that the prisoners at Guantanamo (and elsewhere)
almost certainly cannot be released, and will not be released, before
the 2006 Congressional elections and the 2008 Presidential and Congressional
elections. Not only can the Republicans not afford the political
fallout if some of the released prisoners engaged in new acts of
terrorism (as could well occur because many of them may now hate
us who did not hate or lift a finger against us before), the Republicans
equally cannot at this time afford the additional hatred of us that
will arise all over the world, with the political and economic problems
this would bring, if 400 or 500 men are let go and start telling
their stories to media and governments all over the world. Nor can
the Republicans afford to have people all over the world calling
for the trial of their President and Vice President on charges of
war crimes, which would bring yet more political and economic problems.

Now, let’s
be explicit on a point that flows from this. This writer is saying
that, regardless of whether people in Gitmo and our other prisons
abroad are guilty or innocent, and even if 90 percent are innocent
or at most were very low level, for political reasons it is very
unlikely that there will be any major or wholesale release of prisoners,
be they innocent or guilty, be they dangerous or wholly non-threatening.
For even if there was never another act of terrorism by any released
prisoners, a major release would be pregnant with the possibility
of an electoral disaster for the Republicans – and for their Democrat
neo-Republican friends like Joe Lieberman – because releasees will
be telling their stories worldwide. Right, truth, and morality will
have nothing to do with the likely absence of a major release. Politics
will trump all. That is the nature of this administration, and is
almost surely what is going to happen here.

Now, it is
obvious, as one knows from a few emails in response to prior postings
as well as from simply being in America for over six decades, that
there may be those who refuse to believe this, perhaps mainly because
they don’t want to believe it, are jingoes, are xenophobes,
and/or are wacked out right wingers. The refusal of belief puts
me in mind of a comment made here a few years ago, when this blogger
said, and as far as I know was the only person to say at the time,
that the reason the administration did not want Gitmo prisoners
tried in civilian courts is that necessary evidence had been obtained
from them by means (duress and torture) that would cause it to be
tossed out by the civilian courts. (Whereas military courts, being
subject to Rumsfeld and Bush, would allow the evidence.) This point
was not discussed, mentioned or faced by the media (or anyone else)
as far as I know, nor did people wish to believe it, I think. Now,
of course, it has been admitted to be correct by the administration
on a number of occasions. Well, in the same vein, one day we almost
surely will find out – maybe five years from now, maybe 50 years
from now – that there was no likelihood, maybe even no possibility
at all, of a major release of prisoners, no matter how innocent
or low level and unimportant, or non-dangerous they were, because
a major release would have caused the electoral crucification of
Republicans (and Democrat fellow travelers like Lieberman).

Of course,
Bush and company, and their believers and supporters in the media
and internet worlds – their supporting bloggers and emailers –
will claim that politics have nothing to do with keeping prisoners
in Gitmo. Rather, they will claim, there are good reasons to keep
people there. Maybe the people are dangerous, they will say. Or
their cases are being heard, they will say – although it would
seem that whatever process of alleged military justice was supposed
to occur at Gitmo either is hardly occurring at all or is grinding
so slowly as to be a farce. Well, as any lawyer or politician knows,
there are always reasons which can be put forward to try to justify
what one is doing. The worst tyrants the world has ever seen had
reasons which they put forward for their actions. We have given
reasons for every one of the 14 times – from Hawaii in 1893 to
Iraq in 2003 (and not including World Wars I and II) – when Stephen
Kinzer finds that America has been the main cause of the overthrow
of foreign governments because we didn’t like them and didn’t
want them around, and the reasons we have given from Hawaii to Iraq
were often smokescreens, false, baloney (like WMDs) intended to
try to hide our real reasons.

I don’t
think that the reasons we will hear to allegedly justify keeping
all the Gitmo and other prisoners in custody will be the real reasons
either. Even if they are sometimes true (e.g., almost certainly
some of the Gitmo prisoners are dangerous characters who should
not be let out), the reasons we will hear will not in the main be
the truly motivating reasons. The truly motivating reasons will
be political: if 400 or 500 guys now in Gitmo and other prisons
are released and are able to tell the media and governments all
over the world the stories of what happened to them and what they
saw in Gitmo and elsewhere, the Republicans’ (and neo-Republican
Democrats’) electoral chances will be swamped, the Republicans
will suffer the greatest electoral disaster the country has seen
since Johnson creamed Goldwater and Nixon smashed McGovern. With
this possibility lurking, perhaps even certain, if there is a release,
the chances of a major release by this 200 percent politically minded
administration range from slim to none regardless of what may be
true or just or moral. And slim, as they say, has just left town.

22, 2006

Lawrence R. Velvel [send him mail]
is an honors graduate of the University of Michigan Law School,
has practiced law in the public and private sectors, and been a
law professor. He is the author of the quartet Thine Alabaster
Cities Gleam. The books in the quartet are entitled: Misfits
In America
, Trail
of Tears
, The
Hopes and Fears of Future Years: Loss and Creation
, and The
Hopes and Fears of Future Years: Defeat and Victory. Visit his

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