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Is Cheney Trying To Tie Obama’s Hands On Detainees?

By Matt Duss  

"Is Cheney Trying To Tie Obama’s Hands On Detainees?"

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Yesterday’s Washington Post story on Judge Susan Crawford’s admission that terrorism suspect Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured in United States custody, has unsurprisingly, generated quite a lot of commentary. Much of this has treated Crawford herself basically as a whistleblower, focusing on the fact that a high Bush administration official finally, after years of denials, admitted what most sentient beings already knew to be true: Under Bush and Cheney, America tortures people.

I spoke with Ken Gude, the Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at CAP, who read story quite differently. Gude thinks that Crawford’s statement, when combined with the Pentagon’s recent questionably sourced claims about Guantanamo Bay “increasingly returning to the fight” may be part of an effort by the outgoing administration to tie Obama’s hands in regard to detainee policies.

Watch it:

Gude notes that “Susan Crawford used to work for Dick Cheney, and a lot of people are saying, ‘you see, even Susan Crawford, who used to work for Dick Cheney, has seen the light and she’s admitting to torture.’ Well, I choose to view it in a different way. She’s still doing Dick Cheney’s work in my view. She is making it much more difficult now to pursue the policy that the Obama team would like to pursue.”

On the Pentagon’s claim that 61 released detainees have returned to the fight, Gude says “it’s hard really to get any kind of assessment on its reliability.”

Previously, the defense department had issued a dossier when it made its first statement that they believed 30 detainees had returned to the fight. In that dossier, they were only able to identify seven cases of actual violence, and some of those were based on reports from foreign intelligence services that we would normally not view as terribly reliable. [...] Interestingly, that dossier has been removed from the defense department web site. We no longer have access to it. They didn’t release a similar dossier with this number 61 that they came up with this time. Interestingly, they did say that they have confirmation that 18 of the 61 have returned to the fight –- however they describe it -– and they suspect that an additional 43 have. No information was provided on how they suspect that. No information was provided on what the criteria is for returning to the battlefield.

And so we have to view this number with some skepticism.

Gude says that “when you look at it in the bigger picture –- when you combine this statement by Crawford, her first ever interview, just days before the end of the Bush administration -– when you combine that with the story out of the Pentagon…this looks like a coordinated effort to tie the hands of the Obama team, to make it much more difficult for the Obama administration to pursue its own policies on Guantanamo.”

Full transcript below.

GUDE: Crawford’s interview with Bob over at the Washington Post certainly garnered a significant amount of attention. It’s the first interview that she’s granted since she was appointed as the convening authority for the military commissions nearly two years ago, and I would note that it comes less than a week before the end of the Bush administration. In that interview, she revealed her opinion that Mohammed al-Qahtani, the person who the US government believes is actually the twentieth hijacker –- was supposed to be the person who was not on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania –- they tortured him to the point of near-death, and he’s now no longer psychologically competent to stand trial. And, in fact, anything that he has said since his original interrogation can not be deemed as reliable because his psychological competency is in such question.

What that means now is that it’s going to be much more difficult to prosecute Qahtani and, perhaps, some of the other detainees that we do know have been subject to torture and abusive interrogation, and some of the ones who we don’t. It will be much more difficult to prosecute these detainees, whether it’s in US courts or whatever trial venue that the Obama administration chooses.

It does look very much as if the Obama is going to favor prosecutions in US courts, and any question about the psychological competence of the defendants could call into question those prosecutions. When you look at it in the bigger picture –- when you combine this statement by Crawford, her first ever interview, just days before the end of the Bush administration -– when you combine that with the story out of the Pentagon that they have upped the number of detainees that they claim have returned to the battlefield from 30 to 61, more than 10 percent of the detainees who have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in 2002, this looks like a coordinated effort to tie the hands of the Obama team, to make it much more difficult for the Obama administration to pursue its own policies on Guantanamo, and perhaps even down the road to undermine the Obama administration as it pursues its activities to close Guantanamo, pursue trials in US courts, and release some detainees either back to their home countries or transfer them to other countries for further incarceration.

Looking at the number 61, it’s hard really to get any kind of assessment on its reliability. Previously, the defense department had issued a dossier when it made its first statement that they believed 30 detainees had returned to the fight. In that dossier, they were only able to identify seven cases of actual violence, and some of those were based on reports from foreign intelligence services that we would normally not view as terribly reliable. The other 23 included people like Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul, who had written an op-ed or who had participated in panels decrying their treatment at Guantanamo and criticizing the Bush administration for its policy on detainees. Those detainees were described as engaging in propaganda that supported the enemy, and that was their definition for how they returned to the battlefield. Interestingly, that dossier has been removed from the defense department web site. We no longer have access to it. They didn’t release a similar dossier with this number 61 that they came up with this time. Interestingly, they did say that they have confirmation that 18 of the 61 have returned to the fight –- however they describe it -– and they suspect that an additional 43 have. No information was provided on how they suspect that. No information was provided on what the criteria is for returning to the battlefield.

And so we have to view this number with some skepticism. When you take that combined with what happened with Crawford, we see a coordinated effort here. And while we should be positive when we see these types of revelations about what happened at Guantanamo, in terms of what Crawford said happened to al-Qahtani -– we should be somewhat appreciative of the fact that they’ve released this information publicly, but we also have to look at the big picture and see what they’re really doing is trying to make it much more difficult for the Obama administration here in the last days of the Bush administration.

DUSS: So, in your view, is this Dick Cheney, in his last moments in power, trying to lock in his methods, and his policies?

GUDE: You’ve seen in the numerous exit interviews that both he [Cheney] and Bush have been giving, they have been talking about this very issue about how they view that Guantanamo is going to be very hard. It’s going to be very hard to close, we’ve done what we could, and the reason why we’ve done what we could is because this is such a hard issue. And Susan Crawford used to work for Dick Cheney and a lot of people are saying, “you see, even Susan Crawford, who used to work for Dick Cheney, has seen the light and she’s admitting to torture.” Well, I choose to view it in a different way. And perhaps I have too negative a view of these things, but she’s still doing Dick Cheney’s work in my view. She is making it much more difficult now. This revelation makes it much more difficult to pursue the policy that the Obama team would like to pursue.

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