Back in September, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the release of a Kuwaiti man named Fouad al Rabiah from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, where he had been held since 2002. The judge found that the evidence against Mr. al Rabiah was insufficient to justify his internment, and last Thursday, he was flown home from Cuba on a Kuwaiti royal jet. The next day, the Pentagon dropped all charges against him, although it maintains the option to refile the case - which alleged that Mr. al Rabiah ran a supply depot for al Qaeda at Tora Bora during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 - at a later date.
The specifics of the al Rabiah case feature the now-all-too-familiar elements of torture by the American military, but while that is no longer as shocking as it should be, what is striking is the general trend for the prison population at Guantanamo Bay. Since the beginning of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror,” approximately 775 prisoners have been interned at the American prison camp at one time or another, with a peak population of 536 men in June 2002. As of November 2009, however, that number had dropped to 215, meaning that almost seventy-five percent of the individuals once locked up at Gitmo have been released. Even more tellingly, since the Supreme Court ruled that detainees can challenge their imprisonment in court, only seven detentions have been approved, while 30 prisoners – more than four times that number - have been freed.
In my last post, A Difficult Case for Suicide, I wrote about a 2006 incident in which three Guantanamo prisoners had been found hanged in their cells, their hands and feet bound, and rags stuffed in their mouths. Even if one ignores the highly questionable claim by the U.S. military that the trio committed an elaborate, coordinated suicide while under near-constant observation, or alternatively, even if one is comfortable with the idea that a frontier-style lynching by American guards was the right thing to do, their is some deeply troubling math to consider.
If nearly three quarters of all of the prisoners interned at Guantanamo Bay have been released for lack of evidence or because they have been determined to be not guilty - and they have - odds are that at least two of the "suicides" would have been freed by now. Instead, they ended up dead in an American prison in Cuba, thousands of miles from their homes and their families, the victims of a toxic mixture of fear, ignorance, thoughtless expedience, and American exceptionalism.