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The Worst of the Worst?

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For seven years, the Bush Administration told us that the prisoners held at Guantánamo were the “worst of the worst.” These are the kind of people who would chew through the hydraulic cables of a jet to try to bring it down, a breathless General Richard Myers once noted at a 2002 press conference. No one ever disputed that there were some dangerous figures at Guantánamo, particularly after President Bush decided on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections to move those held in CIA black sites to the naval station in Cuba. But was this true of the majority of the prisoners?

There was an odd discord between the rhetoric of the Bush Administration and their conduct. They continued to talk about the “worst of the worst,” and they relaunched it as a talking point almost from the start of the Obama Administration. But they also worked hard to release and repatriate a large number of detainees—it looks like roughly two thirds of the total—down to the end of their term. Seton Hall Law School students and faculty issued a series of impressive reports surveying the available evidence, and they suggested that perhaps as many as 80% of the total inmate population of Gitmo were innocent people, swept up as a result of generous bounty payments the United States offered to Afghan warlords and Pakistani security officials.

Now, as habeas corpus cases are processed, we finally have a basis to judge the Bush-Cheney claims about the Gitmo prisoners. The “judging” is being done by federal judges in Washington, nearly all of them conservative Republicans and quite a few appointed by George W. Bush himself. The results? The process is still ongoing. But at this moment, decisions have been rendered in 38 cases. The government was found to have had a tenable basis to hold eight Gitmo prisoners, and to have no basis in 30 cases. So far at least, the court judgments are remarkable in their coincidence with the numbers from the Seton Hall study. The judicial reviews—which have gotten far less press coverage than the scatter-shot attacks of Dick Cheney and his daughter–can be summarized this way: “Worst of the worst? Not so much.”

Here’s the roll call, with the status, the prisoner involved, the judge who ruled, and the prisoner’s nationality:

Freedom granted – 30 (20 of whom are still in custody)
17 Uighurs – Urbina (4 released to Bermuda)
5 Bosnian-Algerians – Leon – (4 released – 3 to Bosnia and 1 (Lakhdar Boumediene) to France)
Mohammed el Gharani (Chadian) – Leon (released to Chad)
Yasim Muhammed Basardah – Huvelle (Yemeni)
Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed – Kessler (Yemeni)
Abd al Rahim Abdul Rassak Janko – Leon (Syrian)
Khalid Abdullah Mishal Thamer Al Mutairi – Kollar-Kotelly (Kuwaiti)
Mohammed Jawad – Huvelle (Afghan; released to Afghanistan)
Mohammed Al-Adahi– Kessler (Yemeni)
Fouad Al Rabiah – Kollar-Kotelly (Kuwaiti).

Freedom denied – 8
Belkacem Bensayah (Bosnian) – Leon
Hisham Sliti (Tunisian) – Leon
Muaz Al Alawi (Yemeni) – Leon
Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani (Yemeni) – Leon
Hammamy (Tunisian) – Leon
Waqas Mohammed Ali Awad (Yemeni) – Robertson
Fawzi Al Odah (Kuwaiti) – Kollar-Kotelly
Sufyian Barhoumi (Algerian) – Collyer

h/t to Shane Kadidal for the tally.

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