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Religious Faith in Government Accusations

The Washington Post, today:

The case against Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim seemed ironclad.

The Justice Department alleged that Hatim, a detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, trained at an al-Qaeda military camp in Afghanistan, stayed at terrorist guesthouses and even fought in the battle of Tora Bora. . . .

But a federal judge reviewed the case and found the government's evidence too weak to justify Hatim's confinement. The judge ordered the detainee's release, ruling that he could not rely on Hatim's statements because they had been coerced. He also found that the government's informer was "profoundly unreliable."

The case is more the rule than the exception. Federal judges, acting under a landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling that grants Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to challenge their confinements, have ordered the government to free 32 prisoners and backed the detention of nine others. In their opinions, the judges have gutted allegations and questioned the reliability of statements by the prisoners during interrogations and by the informants. Even when ruling for the government, the judges have not always endorsed the Justice Department's case. . . .

Legal scholars and outside experts who have studied the issue say the government is likely to suffer further losses because many cases appear to be built on the same kinds of evidence that have drawn such skepticism . . . .

In other words, if one hears only the Government's unchallenged, untested accusations about detainees and others whom it labels Terrorists and Enemy Combatants, it semes clear and obvious that the person is an Evil, Dangerous and Bad Man.  But when those accusations are actually subjected to scrutiny by courts, it turns out that -- in the overwhelming majority of cases -- there is virtually no reliable evidence to support them.  Even beyond those cases, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, had access to detainee files and revealed that a huge number of Guantanamo detainees -- constantly accused of being the Worst of the Worst -- were, in fact, completely innocent, as even the Bush administration came to acknowledge.  It's unsurprising that the Government would falsely accuse so many people:  unlike in traditional (i.e., real) wars, where POWs are captured in uniform, as part of an army and on a battlefield, most of the people accused of being Terrorists and Enemy Combatants are captured far away from any battlefield:  in their homes, walking on the street, at work, etc.  The potential for both error and abuse (and thus the need for real safegurads) is radically greater.

Despite those facts, a religious-like faith in government pronouncements continues to dominate debates over Terrorism and civil liberties, virtually always along these lines:

"Of course the President is right to detain dangerous people without charges or trials where they can't convict them.  Of course the President is right to target dangerous people, including American citizens, for assassination.  Of course the President is right to order that they be denied civilian trials, that they be rendered to other countries, that they be eavesdropped on without warrants, that they be 'interrogated harshly,' that they be put before military commissions."

"Why is it so clear that the President is right to do these things?"

"Because these people are Terrorists and Enemy Combatants, trying to kill Americans, and they don't have these rights!"

"Since they haven't had a trial, how do you know that they're Terrorists and Enemy Combatants trying to kill Americans"?

"Because the Government said so!"

This is the mentality that persists more strongly and more pervasively than ever -- even in the face of the above-cited evidence demonstrating how frequently the Government's claims in this regard are false.  I can't even count the number of times I encounter this exact "reasoning."  It's hard to imagine any mindset more impervious to reason and evidence than this, or any thought-process more blatantly tautological and self-negating.  And yet, on a bipartisan basis, our entire system of Government, its core safeguard of checks and balances, and basic due process are being rapidly dismantled, all justified by this warped, faith-based reasoning.

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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