Vice President Cheney yesterday in a radio interview criticized President-elect Obama’s intention to shut down Guantanamo, calling it a “bad decision.” Mostly his comments focused on the challenges associated with closing the prison, which are addressed in HRF’s blueprint to close Gitmo: bring those detainees who the Attorney General believes have committed crimes against the United States to U.S. soil for federal court prosecution, and repatriate and resettle the rest of them.
Cheney also called Gitmo a “first-rate” facility, and claimed that if anything, the Bush administration has “erred a bit on the side” of “letting the wrong people go on a few occasions.” If this is a seldom-heard criticism of the Bush administration, it’s an even stranger boast on Cheney’s part. Those left in the facility, he said, are “the hardcore.”
“These are al Qaeda members,” Mr. Cheney said. “These are people that we captured on the battlefield. These are folks whose main objective in life is to kill Americans.” Cheney said the remaining detainees “are unlawful combatants, terrorists, and by definition, their objective is to achieve their political goals by killing as many civilians as possible. They don’t abide by the laws of war.”
Cheney’s praise for the prison is in sharp contrast to reality. In fact, last week it was reported that the number of prisoners on hunger strike there has grown to 30 people. And the military commission system is deeply flawed. Cheney’s characterization of the people still in prison at Guantanamo is also highly questionable. For example, what about the 17 Uigher detainees, who the government no longer considers enemy combatants, and who a Judge has ordered to be released?
He concludes with that oft-repeated point about our enemies not abiding by the laws of war; why should we follow the rules when we know they won’t? Lieutenant General Harry E. Soyster said it very well at a panel at UVA Law School last fall:
“It doesn’t matter what they do, it’s what we do. We don’t lower ourselves to the level of this terrible enemy we are fighting. It’s about what our standards are.”
Cheney went on to comment on the incoming administration, expressing concern that those who are about to take over don’t realize that the world has changed: “The fact is the world has changed in major ways since January of ’01 when we took over. And that break in service of some eight years I think they will find has been a period of time when the threat to the nation has changed in fairly dramatic ways.” Matthew Alexander, the interrogator who wrote How to Break a Terrorist, had this to say about the dramatic ways the threat to Americans has changed during Cheney’s tenure as Vice President:
“I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans. “