Monday, September 11, 2006

'We absolutely got the wrong people'

From Sunday's Chicago Tribune:

Pakistani authorities have arrested more than 700 al-Qaida operatives in the last five years, including four major ones.

Associated Press on Sunday:

Pakistan was a strong supporter of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, but switched sides after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, Islamabad has arrested more than 700 al-Qaida suspects, including some close associates of bin Laden.

From Vice President Dick Cheney's interview with Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday:

The fact is we've captured and killed more al Qaeda in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world in the last five years. President Musharraf has been a great ally

How soon we forget...

Excerpts from the conservative National Review's article, "Empty evidence" written by Corine Heglend and published as the cover story on February 3, 2006:

But National Journal's detailed review of government files on 132 prisoners who have asked the courts for help, and a thorough reading of heavily censored transcripts from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals conducted in Guantanamo for 314 prisoners, didn't turn up very many of them. Most of the "enemy combatants" held at Guantanamo -- for four years now -- are simply not the worst of the worst of the terrorist world.


After all, despite the rhetoric, most of the men at Guantanamo, or at least the 132 with court records and the 314 with redacted transcripts, came into American custody by way of third parties who had their own motivations for turning people in, including paybacks and payoffs.


Some of the men at Guantanamo came from targeted, U.S.-guided raids in Pakistani cities, and the cases against those men tend to be fairly strong. But the largest single group at Guantanamo Bay today consists of men caught in indiscriminate sweeps for Arabs in Pakistan. Once arrested, these men passed through several captors before being given to the U.S. military. Some of the men say they were arrested after asking for help getting to their embassies; a few say the Pakistanis asked them for bribes to avoid being turned over to America.


Just wanted to pull out one line: "But the largest single group at Guantanamo Bay today consists of men caught in indiscriminate sweeps for Arabs in Pakistan."

"The one thing we were never clear of was where they came from," Scheuer said of the Guantanamo detainees. "DOD picked them up somewhere." When National Journal told Scheuer that the largest group came from Pakistani custody, he chuckled. "Then they were probably people the Pakistanis thought were dangerous to Pakistan," he said. "We absolutely got the wrong people."

The sweeps in Pakistan did pick up a few Qaeda members, but most of them were low level. People familiar with Pakistani politics agree that in the chaos of the war, simple foot soldiers or innocent bystanders were more likely to wind up in American custody than were senior operatives. "It was helter-skelter, and it was perfectly possible innocents were arrested, while a lot of guilty guys knew how to evade [capture] and had the means to do so," said Husain Haqqani, an adviser to three former Pakistani prime ministers who now teaches international relations at Boston University.

Tribes in the border region and operatives in Pakistan's intelligence service were historically sympathetic to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Almost certainly, they aided senior Qaeda and Taliban members fleeing Afghanistan. At the same time, Islamabad was eager to strengthen its new alliance with Washington. The Americans wanted prisoners, and nobody was looking too closely at who those prisoners were.

Add a healthy dollop of cash spread around by both hunters and prey, and a U.S. military bureaucracy dedicated to protecting Americans against a threat from an unfamiliar corner of the world, and you have an unsettling formula for determining who got caught and who got away. It was "win-win," Haqqani said. "The Americans get their prisoners, Pakistanis get their praise, the guy who captures the prisoners gets his reward, and Al Qaeda gets its escape."


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