Friday, March 26, 2010

Unintended consequences

File this one under the unintended consequences of torture:
Critics are already chiding the federal court judge for granting Slahi's petition for habeas corpus and using it to argue the merits of military commissions rather than civilian trials for suspected terrorists.

But the government had already tried and failed to prosecute Slahi in a military commission for what's likely the same reason Judge Robinson ordered him freed: Slahi was tortured in US custody.

US District Judge James Robinson's order was filed under seal and an unclassified version is not yet available. But Slahi's lawyers argued to the court that his torture tainted his confession. The judge appears to have determined that any other evidence against him was equally unreliable or insufficient.

Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, the military commission prosecutor assigned to Slahi's case, came to exactly that conclusion six years ago. Reviewing the classified evidence in the case, Couch concluded that Slahi, who turned himself in for questioning in Mauritania before being transferred to Jordan, Afghanistan and finally Guantanamo Bay, had been mentally and physically tortured in order to induce a confession. In addition to threatening Slahi's life, Couch said in an interview last year, US interrogators threatened to bring his mother to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, where, they implied, she would be gang-raped. To Couch, "that was just over the top. For lack of a better term, that's just un-American." [...]

And Mohamedou Ould Slahi isn't the only prisoner we've been unable to prosecute due to torture. From the same source:
That problem has now come to a head. More than 180 detainees remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without charge, many after having been incarcerated for more than seven years. In 34 of 45 cases, independent federal judges, some of whom were appointed by President George W. Bush, have determined that the government lacks sufficient evidence to justify continuing to imprison the men. At least one other military commission case – the case of Mohammed al-Qatani - had to be dropped altogether because the suspect had been tortured. In another case, the suspect's statements were all suppressed for the same reason. His petition for release was granted.
Note that some of the judges making the determination about insufficient evidence were George W. Bush appointees; this isn't a "liberal vs. conservative judge" debate. The bottom line is that our use of torture on detainees weakens our ability to prosecute them for crimes of terrorism.

Which is something we ought to keep in mind, when insisting that torture keeps us safe.


  1. Ah, Mark's How-Were-We-Supposed-to-Know? phase of history.

  2. "For lack of a better term, that's just un-American."

    Remember back when that was true?