John Oliver whines about Guantanamo

I was wondering how I was going to respond to John Oliver’s ignorant Guantanamo diatribe. It’s longer than it should be, but I went through it, taking notes.

Frankly, I might not have watched this at all. But the first report I’ve seen on it mentioned an “innocent” detainee without naming him. I knew he wasn’t really innocent, of course, but my curiosity got the best of me. So, I watched it all.

Still, I thought there’s simply too much there, and too much wrong, for me to write a quick post. Fortunately, Mike Brown of Inverse selected a few key items to cry about, and I can focus on those. He started with the notable ex-Gitmo detainee:

Shaker Aamer read Harry Potter during his 13 years in Guantanamo Bay, where he was held without charge. The idea of Azkaban, a wizard prison where all the world’s happiness is sucked away by monsters, felt very similar to his situation. It’s a bleak description, but despite efforts to close the facility, Guantanamo has remained open and could soon get a whole lot worse. John Oliver gave a sharp reminder on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight episode that power over the facility may soon transfer to Donald Trump.

There are several points of contention right here in this paragraph.

Let’s start with the “held without charge” nonsense. I covered that deception before. In a nutshell, it wasn’t a crime for a non-American to fight for the Taliban or Al Qaeda. We locked up thousands of German soldiers in WWII even though it wasn’t a crime for them to be members of the German army. That’s the way things work in wars. That’s why the Supreme Court says Guantanamo is legal.

So, any time someone says a Gitmo detainee is “held without charge” or “never charged with a crime,” you should know you’re being tossed an irrelevancy.

Much of Brown’s article repeats Oliver’s confusion over this, referring to detainees “who the U.S. believes have committed crimes, but there is not enough evidence to bring them to trial.” Well, not exactly. That’s only technically true in a few cases, and not relevant because it’s not the reason we’re holding them. (The above linked blog post goes into this further.) The fact is, if it was really only a matter of crimes and trials, the Supreme Court would probably have closed Guantanamo a decade ago.

On Shaker Aamer’s “13 years in Guantanamo Bay”: There are three things wrong here. First, he had a tribunal, annual reviews, and then a habeas review by a federal judge. It was legal to hold him. Second, he had been approved for conditional release years ago. The critics will often repeat this part, pretending they don’t understand this, as if it was an evil glitch in the bureaucracy. And to be fair, most of the critics are simply ignorant on this matter, having been deliberately kept so by the upper tier of the far left. Oliver and Brown had been misled, just like everyone else.

Third: The reason he wasn’t released is because he didn’t want to go home. You see, “home” for Shaker Aamer wasn’t in England. He was only approved for release to his real home, Saudi Arabia, and their jihadi rehabilitation program. (Here’s a clue, folks: Shaker Aamer doesn’t want to be rehabilitated!) And unlike the John Olivers of this world, the Saudis weren’t stupid enough to fall for this stuff. They wanted him back. It may not seem like it sometimes but al Qaeda is an enemy of the Saudi government. I would have preferred Guantanamo, too.

Then there’s “the idea of Azkaban.” This is also plainly stupid, although it is clever the way Aamer plays lefties like the violin. I can imagine him laughing at them after he leaves the interview. An actual feeling of hopelessness would require Gitmo detainees being held unjustly. I already said they’re being held legally. It would only be unjust if the detainees really opposed al Qaeda and their jihad. Shaker Aamer does not.

He opposes ISIS, of course. They’ll all say that, and a lot of these reporters will lap it up. But it’s another irrelevancy. ISIS is an enemy of Al Qaeda. It means nothing for Gitmo detainees to say they oppose it.

Aamer will go a step further. He’ll say he opposes attacks in the U.K., and on civilians in general. Attacks on American or British forces overseas are another matter. He won’t say he opposes those, and the reporters aren’t going to ask him.

Oliver and Brown talk about “the beliefs the country was founded on” and “standing up for our highest ideals, even when it requires accepting a certain amount of risk.” They seem utterly clueless that the men who founded this country designed the system exactly this way: to hold enemy combatants until the end of a war. The media may not be aware of this, but the Supreme Court is.

And yes, I know, somebody’s going to whine about POW status. Don’t. That’s only for enemy combatants who qualify. The men who designed that system did so with the understanding that not every prisoner qualified.

That leaves the “sharp reminder” that Trump may (if we’re lucky) get the keys to Guantanamo next January, as if there’s some threat in that. I’ll have to leave that for another time. John Oliver is truly clueless.

If you oppose slavery, then you oppose radical Islam

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This is taken from the poster for the upcoming movie The Birth of a Nation. The movie is probably controversial. But I’m not talking about the movie today.

I am talking about slavery. Most people like to think that they would have opposed slavery if they had been around in the 1800s. And most of those people are fooling themselves. I doubt that more than a handful of those movie­makers would have fought against it.

Very simply, if you oppose slavery, then you oppose radical Islam.

If you do not oppose radical Islam, then you do not oppose slavery. Do not pretend you would have opposed slavery in the old South.

If you want Guantanamo closed before the war ends (and I mean really closed, and not just moved), then you support radical Islam. That means you are willing to compromise with slavery.

If you want more for Guantanamo detainees than we’d have given unlawful combatants in WWII, then you’re willing to compromise with radical Islam.

If you’re willing to compromise with radical Islam, then you’re willing to compromise with slavery.

There was a time when we would look back on the history of slavery, and imagine that we’d have fought against slavery if we lived in 1850. Maybe we’d have opened our homes to escaping slaves as a rest stop on the Underground Railroad to freedom. We might even like to think we’d have joined the Union Army in the Civil War.

But that’s history. All we really know is where we stand on slavery today.

Much is made of ISIS and Boko Haram and their overt practice of slavery. But all of radical Islam supports it. Saudi Arabia (considered by Islamists to be an apostate government) outlawed slavery in 1964, but it still goes on there. It is in the Koran. You won’t get an Al Qaeda member or sympathizer to denounce slavery. Few, if any, former Guantanamo detainees will denounce it without qualification.

I realize that some people say there is no “radical Islam.” That’s a discussion for another day. We all know who and what I’m talking about.

If you oppose slavery, then you oppose radical Islam.

Colin Powell never thought terrorists should get POW status

I’ve written before about Trump following the law. There’s never been any doubt in my mind. And, as we’ve seen, the U.S. military would not follow an illegal order.

Rosa Brooks thinks they would. She’s a former Pentagon official under the Obama administration with a full assortment of left-wing credentials before that.

Among other things, Brooks uses as her rationale that we didn’t give full rights to our detainees. She writes:

Think back to the first few years after the 9/11 attacks. The Pentagon initially planned to treat Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners in accordance with the rules laid out in the Geneva Conventions, but the White House considered this inconvenient. (Under those rules, prisoners can’t be detained secretly and with no review process, and they most definitely can’t be waterboarded.) So the White House found some unusually compliant Justice Department lawyers, and by January 2002, the department’s office of legal counsel was instructing the Defense Department that Geneva Convention protections did not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters.

Colin Powell, the George W. Bush administration’s secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, objected immediately, as did several top active-duty military officials. The Justice Department’s position would “reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions,” Powell argued, making the United States “vulnerable to domestic and international legal challenges” and creating a risk of criminal prosecution for American officials and troops.

Well, those were Colin Powell’s words, but he wasn’t talking about giving the detainees Prisoner Of War status. Or much of anything beyond what they received at Guantanamo.

As I explained in my book, This is War! Quit Sniveling, it’s true that Powell wanted the U.S. to apply the full Geneva Conventions to the War on Terror. But he never believed that terrorists should then be entitled to POW status. He doubted that any of them would qualify for it.

On that review process she talks about, Powell only concedes that “some” Taliban soldiers “might” be entitled to that. Most weren’t even entitled to that review. None of the al Qaeda detainees were.

Powell then said, “This would not, however, affect their treatment as a practical matter.” And ultimately, it didn’t for the Taliban. Of the Taliban detainees that Powell is talking about, Bush had already determined they would get Common Article 3 status anyway. It’s the al Qaeda detainees that didn’t get it until later.

Colin Powell’s January 26, 2002 memo has been added to the latest edition of my book. It’s also in my documents page here.

Rosa Brooks is a lawyer with a history of working for left-wing activist groups, George Soros’s Open Society Institute among others. Expect more like her in the Pentagon if Hillary Clinton is elected.

Good news comes from interrogation

If you want to know if interrogation can be effective without rough stuff, without even so much as a slap in the face, some might want look no further than the capture and questioning of Umm Sayyaf (widow of senior ISIS terrorist Abu Sayyaf) and Sleiman Daoud al-Afari (ISIS engineer familiar with their chemical weapons program).

If you’re desperate for info on how rough interrogation has no place, forget it: I’ll pour some cold water on that in a moment.

The good news is that the interrogation of these two detainees has led to the bombing of two ISIS chemical weapons facilities. One should recognize that this would be important even if harsh measures had been used. Chemical weapons aren’t a good way to die, and it’s worse to think it could happen to children. The critics might feel better that harsh measures weren’t necessary, but they shouldn’t feel too satisfied.

That brings me to the cold water: It all depends on what measures you might actually think are harsh.

Appendix M of the U.S. Army interrogation manual (that we’re currently using) covers separation. Most of us might laugh that this is an issue, but America’s critics will say (you guessed it!) that’s “torture.”

While I don’t know that this method was used on any of these prisoners, another method might well have been unless they’d cooperated soon enough: “Fear up” — fostering the implicit fears prisoners get from their new predicament.

(Note that I said “implicit.” An explicit threat would have been illegal, and possibly considered torture. But letting them imagine something on their own is okay, regardless of whether it has the same effect.)

After first whining that even this remains permissible under the Obama administration, America’s critics might then feign outrage that the Bush administration needed to go further. But remember: During that time, the CIA didn’t need to go further than that on most of its prisoners either. Enhanced interrogation was only used on about a third of the CIA prisoners (about 35 or so), and even that includes those who got only the lesser methods. Those started with nothing more than tough talk while being grabbed by the collar.

As for these recent two, the wife of a terrorist leader and an engineer are definitely not what you’d expect as requiring the roughest interrogation. Their fear must have become all the more real when they heard they’d be turned over to the Kurds. It’s easy to find an implicit threat out in that.

Trump, waterboarding and illegal orders

It’s interesting that Bill Maher found nothing wrong when General Michael Hayden said that, should Trump become President, the U.S. military would refuse to follow any orders to waterboard detainees.

As I pointed out last week, waterboarding is now illegal, having been made so in last November’s defense bill. It restricts any arm or agent of the U.S. government from using any techniques not in the U.S. Army interrogation manual.

This isn’t about whether or not the CIA’s method of waterboarding is torture. It’s not in the manual, and that alone now makes it illegal. Everyone in the military knows that you cannot follow illegal orders. There’s nothing new here.

But it doesn’t matter all that much. The next Congress can pass another law to make it possible. They won’t do that easily. It will require the right circumstances, but, sadly, such things are inevitable when the world is as it is.

ISIS is already using chemical weapons. They’ll have biological weapons sooner than we wish, and that’s just the start.

Democrats were driven by politics to oppose waterboarding, and to make it sound a lot worse than it is. They will flip the other way the moment it makes sense to them, but continue to insist that the new techniques aren’t as bad as the old ones. Whatever sells.

Once the law changes, someone in (or working for) the government will do it knowing that it is legal. It just takes a President who has their back.

Does that mean I think it’ll happen that quickly? Not really. The enhanced interrogation techniques came about because we knew relatively little about Al-Qaeda. They weren’t needed as much toward the end of the Bush administration, and even less after we let other countries keep and interrogate more of the prisoners. I can imagine Trump letting that continue.

On the other hand…

Trump also said he’d “take out the family members.” It’s doubtful he meant it, and impossible to believe the threat could be bad enough that intentionally killing civilians becomes legal. But could they be detained temporarily? Sure. We’ve already detained family members during both the Bush and Obama administrations.


It is interesting that this story also popped up that one of the “alleged” terrorists is claiming mistreatment at the hands of the Guantanamo guard force. Noise and vibrations are supposedly keeping him from sleeping and praying.

There’s a part of me that would like to think such things happen, but who seriously believes President Obama could allow such a thing that’s almost certainly against the law? It’s clearly absurd.

And yet the same people who applaud General Hayden’s statement that the military would (quite naturally) refuse an illegal order, will then take this “alleged” terrorist’s claims seriously.


Later [03/05/16]: As I thought, Trump needed to backtrack:

Trump told The Wall Street Journal he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters.”

I’ve got other problems with Trump, but I never saw this as a big deal. He made his fortune through his willingness to navigate New York City’s convoluted property laws and union regulations. I never thought he’d be a Mussolini.

Bluster has its place. Enhanced interrogation was mostly bluster (just as the criticism it received was mostly a sham). Even our current interrogation methods will work better if the terrorists know that a man like Trump is running things.

Guantanamo orange is the new black

One of the reasons we’re supposed to move Guantanamo is because they say it’s a “recruitment tool” for terrorists.

No less an icon of truth than Politifact says that it’s not true. Yes, they do use it a bit, but it’s not a big sell. The jihadis’ victories are their real recruiting tool.

But you already knew that.

I’d really like to point to a festering boil of a wrong view, and now Eli Lake is repeating it. When brushing off the notion of Gitmo being a recruiting tool, he throws a small bone in that direction with this:

When James Foley was beheaded in 2014, he was wearing an orange jumpsuit, the same color as the jumpsuits worn by early Guantanamo detainees.

But I don’t see it that way at all. ISIS is not poking fun at how we supposedly treat prisoners.

When ISIS puts those jumpsuits on their prisoners, it’s more than a mockery of Guantanamo. They’re claiming to be a state. They want to appear equal to the United States. Those jumpsuits are a cheap and easy way to do that.

Had there had been no Guantanamo agit-prop, but simple news stories and pictures without the stories of scandal, ISIS would still be dressing up their prisoners the same way. It wouldn’t matter how many prisoners we took, and what conditions they were put in. What mattered is what it looked like.

Why Obama wants to ‘close’ Guantanamo

President Obama has a new plan to close Guantanamo, and it’s pretty much like the old one: 1) Send the older, and/or less dangerous ones to a place where they’ll only bother somebody else; and 2) lock the others up in the United States. Why not just keep those in Guantanamo? Because Obama needs this politically.

As a political issue, Guantanamo has been a bridge between the moderate Democrats and the extreme left. It was a tricky balancing act for politicians because there were still some Democrats who remembered 9/11, but they could be brought on board by saying this was about “values” while also promising they would otherwise be tough on terror.

(These are the same values we’ve always had, but memories are short.)

The trouble for Democrats is, having won in 2008, they have the responsibility to defend the country. Our enemies aren’t stopping. There are some detainees we can never release while the war continues. Of those we do release, few will even say they oppose the jihad (no matter how nice they might otherwise try to sound).

And yet, President Obama and the Democrats still need a way to pretend they have solved the issue that they campaigned on for so long.

The solution is simple: Instead of actually closing Guantanamo, move it to a prison in the United States. Once it’s moved, the Democrats can tell their base that it’s been “closed.” That’s good enough for the partisan Democrat for whom it was never more than another talking point.

The funny part is that the extreme left hates this. Expect more Democrats to start complaining about “Guantanamo North” once a Republican is in charge again.

Addendum: I just watched Juan Williams on The Five fret that he thinks the Guantanamo detainees should have full trials. (Well, they’ve had tribunals over ten years ago, annual reviews, habeas hearings and new PRB parole hearings. While they’re not the same, let’s leave that difference aside for now.)

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that Obama’s plan for moving Guantanamo does not change their legal status. Under the plan, those not getting trials in Guantanamo still won’t be getting them in Guantanamo North.

It is only a change in location. From my perspective, the only nice thing about Obama’s plan is that the prison conditions at the new locations won’t be as pleasant for the detainees as what they have now.

This was never about human rights for any of Guantanamo’s critics.

R.I.P. Justice Scalia, and setting the record straight on his torture statement

Rest in Peace, Antonin Scalia.

There’s not much I can add to what’s being said about Justice Scalia, whose death was announced today. I’m not even going to talk about the work that must be done regarding President Obama’s inevitable appointment of a successor. But I do see some misconceptions being carried regarding his words on torture.

The critics are bringing this piece from the Rachel Maddow show’s blog. It refers to an interview Scalia gave to RTS (Swiss National Radio) in which he pointed out that the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment outlaws torture, but only for purposes of punishment, not interrogation.

While that might seem odd at first, this should be easy to grasp. There’s a difference between punishment and coercion for another purpose, and men of the 18th century were careful to put the word “punishment” in there. Maddow’s blogger seemed to think he could argue with the text, but the word is in there for a good reason.

It wasn’t just the Eighth Amendment either. Critics of the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation (but not necessarily critics of real torture by others) occasionally like to point to the Lieber Code, which Abraham Lincoln had ordered to fight the Civil War. This includes a prohibition against torture. But what those critics tend to leave out is that it prohibits “torture to extort confessions.”

They put those words in for a reason. Hundreds of thousands would die in that war. They couldn’t rule out torture for interrogation. If they could gain an advantage by torturing a few men, they were going to think of the thousands who might be saved.

Later, there were torture statutes and torture treaties, but they allowed lesser forms of harsh interrogation.

This doesn’t mean harsh interrogation is legal today. But it was only made illegal last year in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016, which forbids any part or agent of the government from using any method not in the Army interrogation manual.

Yes, I know that Trump and others say they’ll bring back waterboarding if necessary. The next Congress can remove the restrictions, should they need to. It can be made politically possible. Most who claim to oppose it now were fine with it before. They can be fine with it again.

Until then, we’ll have to keep doing what we’re doing now: Letting our Arab allies handle prisoners whenever possible. The critics are strangely fine with that.

For now, once again, Rest in Peace, Justice Antonin Scalia.

The ACLU doing what the ACLU does

The ACLU and its friends are close to admitting that there weren’t enough examples of real “torture” for them to complain about.

Having sued to get images from evidence files of military legal cases, the ACLU finally got 198 images involving soldiers accused of mistreating prisoners. There were about 2,000 photos, but most are withheld because, quite understandably, the military doesn’t want to provoke the the jihadists. The ACLU doesn’t care if it provokes more violence. They want to see all the photos no matter who gets hurt.

But this wasn’t interrogation, either by the military or the CIA. It was soldiers who allegedly committed crimes during the war. The trouble is, if our moral betters don’t have interrogation pictures, they need to dress up whatever they do have, and then act like it was all part of the same plan.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International U.K., had the nerve to chime in here. To be more surreal, her piece is called, “Picture This: The Full Truth and Nothing But the Truth Over Torture During the War on Terror.”

Do any of these people care about the truth? I don’t think so.

No, I’m not kidding about that. I truly don’t believe they care about the truth. I don’t believe they oppose torture. I don’t even believe they oppose slavery. (No, I’m not kidding about that either.)

She is commenting almost six years to the day that, in 2010, the sky fell in for Amnesty as they abandoned their gender-rights chief in favor of Islamic radical (and former Gitmo-detainee) Moazzam Begg.

Whatever we may think about Islamists like Begg, at least he believes in something, even if it’s the wrong thing. Amnesty only dropped their pact with Begg and his organization last year, and it took one hell of a lot of shame to make them finally do it. They have yet to apologize for all the jihad-kissing.

But back to the story…

This should be familiar to those who’ve paid close attention: A few soldiers treat their prisoners badly, and America’s critics (like the jihad-kissers) try to pretend that it must be a deliberate policy of the U.S. government.

Continue reading “The ACLU doing what the ACLU does”