Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 05, 2006

Kafka in Gitmo

After a judge stepped in, the Department of Defense has answered an Associated Press FOIA request for the names of Guantanamo detainees with a document dump of some 5,000 pages in 60 scanned PDF files up to 34 megabytes each.

The documents contain testimony of detainees before some tribunals in Guantanamo. It will take weeks to make some systematic sense of these. So I only did some random picks.

Short conclusion: If you like Kafka tales, these documents will need an honor board in your library.

The general accusation in many cases seems to be: "The Detainee is associated with Al Qeada."

There is never offered proof for this. Only unclassified information is provided and the detainees are not told about, nor able to respond to any classified evidence. Thereby the detainees can only reject the statements. They can not even try to make an argument.

The tribunals staff, throughout these reviews, seem to have a bit of constricted cultural horizon.

Like, what might be a "desaster"?

Consider this exchange in "Testimony of Detainees Before the Administrative Review Board", ARB_Transcript_Set_3_769-943_FINAL.pdf. The man is accused to be AWOL from the Saudi military to go to work for a Taliban related organization. He claims to have been a civil employee and to have worked in Afghanistan for charity.

Detainee: The first point, I think is A.1.  Yes, I am a clerk of Saudi Air Defense Force. The U.S. Force, they have my passport and it's written on my passport that I am an employee for the government. I took leave for one month from my job. I mentioned this many times to the interrogators, the U.S. interrogators. The fatwa, it's not the main reason for [me] leaving Afghanistan, there were some [other] influences. The media and what was happening in Afghanistan, from seeing the disaster by the TV and the newspaper, influencing me. I was ...

Presiding Officer: The disaster you are referencing is September 11th, the Towers?

Detainee: the [referring to the Towers]... the disaster in Afghanistan....

Presiding Officer: Afghanistan...OK!

Detainee: ...the refugees and the poor people in Afghanistan. They [referring to the media] said [the] Islamic country it's in danger to be invaded by Northern Alliance.


In Set_1_0001-0097.pdf there is a detainee accused of having been a cook for the Taliban and of having "family ties to known terrorists in Pakistan".

The guy says he does not know how to cook, but he grew vegetables. He came with his family from Kazakhstan to Afghanistan to find a job. He does not have any relatives in Pakistan.

Try to digest this bit under some "presumption of innocence":

Q: What can you tell us about other accusations you said were false? When it says you have "family ties" to known terrorists in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, what is the government talking about when it says these things?

A: You mean how the Taliban they feel about the terrorists groups in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, right?

Q: No. What does the United States government mean when it says you have "family ties" to terrorists?

A: They are just blaming me. It's false.

Q: Do you think this is about someone else in your family?

A: We came to Afghanistan because we are all Muslim. They provide all the food and housing because of the Muslim religion.

Q: We are trying to figure out why you're here. The United States wouldn´t detain someone for more than 2 years for simply growing vegetables. Can you help us understand?

A: The Detainee did not respond to that question.

Q: Do you want to tell us why you think you're here?

A: I'm here because I went to Afghanistan with my family for a better life. They captured me at that house. That's the reason I'm here.

"The United States wouldn´t detain someone for more than 2 years for simply growing vegetables." - why not?

The tribunals sure make for some funny moments too, when a detainee outsmarts the court. Consider this exchange from Set_14_1292-1317H.pdf:

After all allegations were read, the Detainee had a question.

Detainee: Are these evidence or accusations?

Tribunal President: They are in the form of both. They are considered unclassified evidence. But yes, you can also consider them allegations that you will have an opportunity to address.

Detainee: I'm sorry. I just don't understand. How does it fit the two pictures of definitions? For example, if I say this table is a chair and the chair is the table and they are the same thing, does that make sense?

Tribunal President: No, that doesn't make sense. But this process makes sense to me and hopefully it will make sense to you, because you're the one that´s going to have to provide us with evidence and tell us that you did or did not do these things listed on the summary of evidence.

So if the tribunal president can not distinguish between allegation and evidence, how should a detainee respond? To the tribunal, the detainee is "the one that´s going to have to provide us with evidence". That of course without knowledge of the classified allegations and evidence.

Another very weird point: The tribunals obviously do interrogate the detainees without having read their files. How do they know what to ask? How do they know the context of any answers?

As is clear from reading those transcripts, they do not know either of these.

Can you imagine a judge or a jury asking questions without knowing the case at all?

An additonal point on the ridicules setup: Set_49_3298-3380.pdf:

Tribunal President: Do you want to present information to this Tribunal and would you like to make your statement under oath?

Detainee: For sure. Are you going to believe in my oath?

Tribunal President: Certainly. If you take an oath, we will consider what you say to be true.

She will "consider". What would she have done with the detainees words without an oath? Not consider them?

A part of the documents are "Administrative Review Board Summaries of Detention/Release Factors".

For a detainee Sen, Mesut "primary factors [to] favor continued detention" include:

The detainee was in possession of a Casio watch. The same model number of Casio watch found in possession of the detainee has been frequently used in bombings that have been linked to al Qaeda and other radical Islamic terrorist groups.

How many millions of these clocks did Casio make?

I recommend to skim through a few of these documents. It is quite a lecture in witch trials and witch trial judgments. The detainees are in inescapable "catch 22"  situations.

Kafka could not have thought out a more disturbing setting.

Posted by b on March 5, 2006 at 18:32 UTC | Permalink


incredible, simply incredible. i am going to be glued to my computer for a while reading all these pdf files. this is absolutely mindboggling to me how we could be engaged in these war crimes for what?? it's just beyond me what we have done to these lives, these people, most randomly it seems. this huge experiment in disater

thank you for the post bernard, i really haven't noticed much examination of these files in the press.

Posted by: annie | Mar 5 2006 19:42 utc | 1

Time to put away this idealism and start thinking like a good red-stater.

We've all seen enough of those detective shows where we watch the criminal commit the crime and then cynically use all the tricks of the criminal justice system to avoid being caught or prosecuted.

Well, it was just the same with these guys, except that we missed the first part of the show 'cause we were up fetching a beer & a snack. They're dead to rights, boys!

And if we hafta fry a few innocent ones to get at the guilty ones, that's just fine, they are neither US citizens nor are they on US territory!

Posted by: ralphieboy | Mar 5 2006 20:56 utc | 2

"We are here today to make a choice
between the quick, and the dead."

Bernard Baruch, before US H-bombed
Bikini and made permanent refugees
of a peoples, like an Israel, but
without the Palestine. Or this one:

Strange how you pick your priorities.
There are literally millions of poor
people dying in crisis, and you are
gleefully reading prisoner reports.

That's really Kafka-esque, Bernhard.
It's almost like you're enjoying this.

Posted by: Clarence Michaels | Mar 6 2006 6:45 utc | 3

NYT takes a look too: Voices Baffled, Brash and Irate in Guantánamo

At one review hearing last year, an Afghan referred to by the single name Muhibullah denied accusations that he was either the former Taliban governor of Shibarghan Province or had worked for the governor. The solution to his case should have been simple, Mr. Muhibullah suggested to the three American officers reviewing his case: They should contact the Shibarghan governor and ask him.

But the presiding Marine Corps colonel said it was really up to the detainee to try to contact the governor. Assuming that the annual review board denied his petition for freedom, noted the officer, whose name was censored from the document, Mr. Muhibullah would have a year to do so.

"How do I find the governor of Shibarghan or anybody?" the detainee asked.

"Write to them," the presiding officer responded. "We know that it is difficult but you need to do your best."
Another Saudi, Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi, was one of at least half a dozen men against whom the "relevant data" considered by the annual review boards included the possession at the time of his capture of a Casio model F-91W watch. According to evidentiary summaries in those cases, such watches have "been used in bombings linked to Al Qaeda."

"I am a bit surprised at this piece of evidence," Mr. Awfi said. "If that is a crime, why doesn't the United States arrest and sentence all the shops and people who own them?"

Another detainee whose evidence sheet also included a Casio F-91W, Abdullah Kamal, was an electrical engineer from Kuwait who once played on his country's national volleyball team. He was also accused of being a leader of a Kuwaiti militant group that collected money for Mr. bin Laden.

As for the Casio allegation, Mr. Kamal said the watch was a common one in Kuwait and had a compass that could be used to find the direction of Mecca for his prayers. "We have four chaplains" at Guantánamo, he said. "All of them wear this watch."
Consider the exchange over a Belgian detainee, captured in Afghanistan. One allegation, read in court, was that he was a member of the Theological Commission of the GICM.

"What is GICM?" asked the detainee, who was not identified.

The tribunal president asked a clerk, "Could you explain what GICM is? I have the same question."

The clerk said he was not sure, either. Another accusation was read: that GICM is associated with Al Qaeda. The detainee answered again, "I don't know this group."

The tribunal president announced a short break so the clerk could "find out, for everyone's benefit, What GICM stands for." When the tribunal reconvened, the clerk announced that GICM stood for Groupe Islamiste Combatant du Maroc, or the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group.

To which the detainee responded, "I never before heard of all this."

Posted by: b | Mar 6 2006 6:48 utc | 4

@clarence, gleefully? surely you jest

this is a theatre of the absurd

Posted by: annie | Mar 6 2006 8:39 utc | 5

@ Clarence Michaels:

Nan Ch'uan Cuts the Cat in Two

Nan Ch'uan (Nansen) saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: `If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat.' No one answered. So Nan Ch'uan boldly cut the cat in two pieces.

That evening Chao Chou returned and Nan Ch'uan told him about this. Chao Chou removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.

Nan Ch'uan said: "If you had been there, you could have saved the cat."

Mumon's Comment: Why did Chao Chou put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nan Ch'uan enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.

Had Chao Chou been there,
He would have enforced the edict oppositely.
Chao Chou snatches the sword
And Nan Ch'uan begs for his life

Lost in the world of the ten-thousand things, Nan Ch'uan tried to save them. Instead they passed from one nonsense to another, taking it all seriously and leaving no way out for the cat. Like playing children, interrupted by the order: "Play"; suddenly they didn't know what to do. But Chao Chou did; he would have saved the cat and them! Lost in their game, they were lost in the world; but Nan Ch'uan was at home in the world and therefore, at home in the game.

The great Dogen zenji saw this as an immense failure; he saw it as a Teacher with bloody hands standing before embarrassed, horrified, and confused students. He said that Nanzan may have been able to cut the cat into two, but had no realization at all of being able to cut the cat into one. Bringing together body and mind, self and other, time and space, bringing everything back into its original wholeness and bringing all that we are aware of into Awareness itself through cutting away separateness with the sword of insight, the thin blade of this moment, is cutting the cat into one.

My Commentary: Congratulations! You have just cut the cat in two, and you stand before us with your bloody hands grinning.

The cat, of course, with its wily behavior, represents imperial arrogance. The end with the long body and tail does not make a single noise - it represents the voiceless millions suffering and dying. The end with the head issues a blood-curdling caterwaul. The servants of empire furiously attempt to stifle this lone plaintive wail, so the playing monks-in-training of this planet do not hear it.

The master, "bringing together body and mind, self and other, time and space, bringing everything back into its original wholeness," cuts the cat bloodlessly into one.

You, Clarence Michaels, place your sandals upon your head, in a self-satisfied manner, and walk out the room.

Posted by: Malooga | Mar 6 2006 16:28 utc | 6


Posted by: annie | Mar 6 2006 17:10 utc | 7

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