Tag: detainees

Quick Gitmo Post

Regarding the revelations in the latest diplo-document-dump, there are some good questions to be asked. Charli is wondering who actually did the leaking and Ben Wittes is concerned about the effect that this will have on not only the government, but the detainees themselves:

Should it most upset the government, for whom the story represents yet another devastating failure to keep important secrets? Or should it most upset detainee counsel, for whom this trove means the public release of huge amounts of unsubstantiated speculation about clients who have not been charged and against whom it is far easier to write down disparaging information in intelligence reports than it is to prove such allegations in court. For both intelligence and civil liberties reasons, there are very good reasons a lot of this material has not been made public.

I’m just going to say that there’s not a lot new here. As the New York Times itself writes:

The Guantánamo assessments seem unlikely to end the long-running debate about America’s most controversial prison. The documents can be mined for evidence supporting beliefs across the political spectrum about the relative perils posed by the detainees and whether the government’s system of holding most without trials is justified.

Basically, the story in the Times just highlights the already known facts: that many individuals are at Guantanamo because of shoddy evidence but cannot be returned to their home countries because they are either considered to be dangerous, whatever evidence was held against them was gained through torture, or there is a substantial chance that their home governments would torture them upon return. It also highlights the fact that the methodology/process for sorting out who should be sent to Guantanamo was flawed, at best.

Again, these are already things that were well known. The documents just seem to shed some light as to who is actually there. It really doesn’t offer us much information as to what to do with the hard cases of individuals like Khalid Sheik Mohammed who would seem to be guilty of major terrorist crimes, but who has been handled so poorly as to make a fair trial nearly impossible.

Right now, the only good I can see coming of this is reminding people that Gitmo is still there, that there are still people in it and that no one seems willing to do anything about it. But really, you have to wonder whether the ‘big issue’ here will be that of Gitmo  itself or that the documents were leaked in the first place. Right now I’m going to put my money on the later.

Rights or Wrong? On Falsification in the Human Rights Issue Area

A conference was recently held at the University of Maastricht on Human Rights and Methodology, which explored the following questions:

By which criteria can a product of human rights research be qualified as a methodologically sound piece of work? What are examples of such good practices and what are examples of practices that are unsatisfactory from a methodological point of view? And are there aspects and considerations that are typical for the methods of research applied in the field of human rights?

In his keynote, David Forsythe lamented the paucity of methodological rigor in human rights scholarship, which tends to be legal or normative in character. And Todd Landman argued for the importance of treating human rights as any other subject in the social sciences, with causal and constitutive propositions subjected to rigorous analysis.

In this vein, I’d like to know how to construct a research project that could attempt to objectively test some propositions culled from political rhetoric about detainees in the global war on terror. Though detainee treatment on the surface seems to be (and perhaps should be) a moral debate, in actuality both sides consistently invoke explanatory arguments to make their case. Most of these claims should be empirically testable. To wit:

Hypothesis: Coercive interrogation techniques are effective and necessary as a means to extract “actionable intelligence” from the enemy.

Counter-hypothesis: Coercive interrogation techniques are in-effective and counter-productive.

Hypothesis: Human rights violations by a super power erode the human rights regime itself.

Counter-hypothesis: Human rights violations by a super power strengthen the human rights regime by galvanizing other “good citizen” states against the hegemon’s practices.

Hypothesis: Governments that abuse foreigners are likelier to then abuse their own citizens.

Counter-hypothesis: There is no such necessary relationship, because governments draw a distinction between foreigners and citizens; they are capable of abusing the former while protecting the rights of the latter.

You see what I’m suggesting.

If human rights activists are going to base their arguments on utilitarian claims rather than normative claims, would it be a good idea to make sure these claims are not specious? Do political scientists have a role to play here? Or is the role of the “responsible” scholar never to attempt to falsify arguments, however specious, that might conceivably stay the hand of vengeance?


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