Flip Flop: GITMO Detainees Not “Most Dangerous” After All?

All of the major papers carried a remarkable story this morning: the Bush administration is negotiating the transfer of almost 70% of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay to their countries of origin. As the Washington Post reported:

Senior U.S. officials said yesterday’s agreement is the first major step toward whittling down the Guantanamo population to a core group of people the United States expects to hold indefinitely. …

The United States considers all the remaining detainees to be medium- or high-risk and therefore not eligible for release once handed over, as has happened with about 70 detainees released earlier to about a dozen countries.

What’s notable about this story isn’t just the transfer itself — it’s that the transfer flies in the face of so much of what the administration has said about the Guantanamo detainees. Just a small sampling:

Rumsfeld: “They are among the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth. They are not POW’s.” [USA Today, 1/28/02]

Cheney: “These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can.” [Slate]

Bush: “Make no mistake, however, that many of those folks being detained — in humane conditions, I might add — are dangerous people We want to learn as much as we can in this new kind of war about the intention and about the methods and about how these people operate. And they’re dangerous and they’re still around and they’ll kill in a moment’s notice.” [6/20/05]

If these people are such bloodthirsty, ferocious killers, then why are we sending so many back to their countries of origin where (in Afghanistan, at least) foreign governments will have “exclusive” control over them?


The answer, as Josh Marshall points out, is probably that the prisoners were never all that dangerous to begin with. The transfer is either incredibly stupid, or it’s a tacit admission that the administration was wrong all along about the vast majority of the Guantanamo detainees.

— Conor Clarke