Debunking Former Vice President Cheney’s Myths: The Worst of the Worst?

Cheney Myth: “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” Cheney said. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.”

Cheney said he has heard from few members of Congress eager for Guantanamo transfers to their home-state prisons, and asked: “Is that really a good idea to take hardened al Qaeda terrorists who’ve already killed thousands of Americans and put ’em in San Quentin or some other prison facility where they can spread their venom even more widely than it already is?”(February 4, 2009)

Some 779 detainees have passed through Guantanamo since it opened in 2002. Since 2004, when the Pentagon set up a review system to evaluate the 558 detainees remaining at the base, 330 detainees have been transferred or released. It is therefore obvious that, since the beginning, it was wrong for senior government officials to label all those held at Guantanamo as the “worst of the worst.”

Although much information about the approximately 242 detainees who are still being held remains obscure, we do know something about a number of them. Among the population still there, some detainees have been ordered released pursuant to court order, but are still being held at Guantanamo, including:

  • 17 Uighurs (they are now being held at Camp Iguana, detained without clarity on their date of release despite a federal court ordering their release into the U.S. last autumn)
  • 2 Boumediene petitioners, Lakhdar Boumediene and Saber Lahmar (now in Camp Iguana, ordered released by court, but not yet released)
  • el Gharani (a Chadian child who was detained at the age of 15 and who remains in solitary confinement despite a court order to release him)

In total, the government has claimed that approximately 60 detainees who are still at Guantanamo are cleared for release.

In the last three months, at least 24 detainees have been declared improperly held, and many of these men have been sent home, including:

  • Mohamed Nechle, Mustafa Ait Idir and Hadj Boudella, who were ordered released by federal court order and sent home in December.
  • Haji Bismullah, who was repatriated to Afghanistan some weeks ago as a result of a second CSRT in which he was classified as a “No Longer Enemy Combatant.”
  • Four Iraqis and an Algerian were also repatriated along with Bismullah. These were not transferred home pursuant to court order.

The cases have provided “a snapshot of the intelligence collected by the government on the suspects and suggest that there was little credible evidence behind the decision to declare some of the men enemy combatants and to hold them indefinitely,” according to the New York Times. The government has failed to make its case against many of the detainees, which calls into question the validity of continuing to hold those who remain in Guantanamo today.

Are statements like Cheney’s characterizing the entire population of Guantanamo as ruthless terrorists – without regard to the facts – designed to protect American lives – or simply the political careers of the people who architected this disastrous detention policy? To listen to Cheney, one would think that simply being held at Gitmo makes you guilty of terrorism, but we know that this is not the case. And the more we learn about the people who are there, the more necessary a comprehensive review of all the cases becomes, and the less accurate the Bush Administration’s oft-repeated statements about those held at Gitmo appear to be.


Published on February 10, 2009


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