Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Backstory

Today's Washington Post notes that the government has once again dropped some charges against Guantanamo Bay detainees just as their habeas corpus hearing is about to commence.

The six Algerians were scooped up in Bosnia and shuttled to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in early 2002. Days later, President Bush proclaimed in his State of the Union address that the men had been plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.

The case would seem to be an easy victory for the Bush administration, which is preparing to defend the men's lengthy detentions in landmark federal court proceedings scheduled to begin this week.

But the government is backpedaling.

The charges of plotting to blow up the embassy have been dropped. Other allegations, made by a witness whom federal prosecutors called a liar in court filings five years ago, have dissolved. The government now justifies the detentions on far narrower grounds: It says the men were planning to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces.

As the defense attorneys quoted in the article point out, the government's case might have held up in the Military Commission court room, but in a real court before a real judge, the facts supporting the case were toilet paper thin. Hence the back pedal. Nothing new here when it comes to the Gitmo detainees. It's the back story, however, which bears some examination in the article.

The six Algerians were living in Bosnia -- five also had dual Bosnian citizenship -- when they were arrested by Bosnian authorities in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the request of the U.S. government. U.S. officials alleged that the men had ties to terrorists and were plotting to attack U.S. interests in the region.

Over the next three months, Bosnian authorities investigated the men's backgrounds but found no links to terrorism, according to court filings by Alija Behmen, who at the time was Bosnia's prime minister.

The Bosnian Supreme Court ordered them released on Jan. 17, 2002, ruling that there was not enough evidence to hold them. The Bosnian Human Rights Chamber issued a separate decision saying the men could not be deported.

But under pressure from the U.S. government, Behmen said, Bosnian authorities handed them over to the U.S. military on Jan. 18.
[Emphasis added]

Now that's kind of interesting. Bosnian authorities didn't find any evidence to support the US claims more than six years ago, but because of "pressure" they still handed the Algerians over. What kind of pressure was applied? The Washington Post article doesn't say, but I found one article with a little more information via Watching America. An Irish newspaper, the Belfast Telegraph, covered that part of the story in a column by Robert Fisk several days ago:

...lawyers defending the Arabs – who had already been acquitted of such a plot in a Sarajevo court – have found that the US threatened to pull its troops out of the Nato peacekeeping force in Bosnia if the men were not handed over. According to testimony presented by the Bosnian Prime Minister, Alija Behman, the deputy US ambassador to Bosnia in 2001, Christopher Hoh, told him that if he did not hand the men to the Americans, "then let God protect Bosnia and Herzegovina". ...

That such a threat should be made – and the international High Representative to Bosnia at the time, Wolfgang Petritsch, has also told lawyers it was – shows for the first time just how ruthless and unprincipled US foreign policy had become in Mr Bush's "war on terror". By withdrawing their military and diplomatic support for the Bosnian peace process, the Americans would have backed out of the Dayton accord which they themselves had negotiated. Then the Bosnian government would have lost its legitimacy and the country might have collapsed back into a civil war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and involved mass rape as well as massacre. The people of Bosnia might then have endured "terror" on a scale far greater than the attacks of al-Qa'ida against the United States.

I believe the appropriate term for the "pressure" exerted by the Bush administration is "extortion," yet the Washington Post contains none of this information. The mere mention of the "pressure" doesn't even occur until deep into the article (page 2 of the website version). Apparently the editor didn't feel the information about just how "ruthless and unprincipled" our foreign policy had become under the Bush Administration was important.

Heckuva job, Fred.

79 days

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