Did We Know Detainees Were Innocent All Along?

In her short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Ursula Le Guin imagines an almost utopian society whose existence depends on a dark secret. The inhabitants of this city's happiness depends for some reason on keeping a single child imprisoned under miserable conditions indefinitely. When they grow up, the city's residents are told the truth about their society. Most come to accept the injustice the city is based on. But a handful walk away from it, unwilling to live even in paradise under these terms.

A top aide to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State under George W. Bush says the Bush administration made just this kind of calculation. In a statement he filed on behalf of a Guantánamo detainee, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served in the Army for 31 years and was Colin Powell's chief of staff, says that Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew that most of the 742 detainees originally imprisoned at Guantánamo had done nothing wrong, but believed it was "politically impossible to release them." Cheney and Rumsfeld, he says, feared that releasing the prisoners would be politically damaging because it would reveal that our detention program was an "incredibly confused operation." Wilkerson says that Cheney—who has said that keeping the the country safe is "a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business"—"had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent." Instead, Cheney justified holding people they knew were innocent by saying it was necessary in order to be able to detain real terrorists as well.

Col. Wilkerson is a long-time critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. He has argued for a long time that the administration made no real effort to determine whether there was any reason to hold the majority of the detainees. Instead we held them—under appalling, generally abusive conditions—on the off chance that they might happen to know something useful. While Wilkerson's claim is shocking, the truth is it has been clear to outside observers that—in spite of repeated assertions that they were "the worst of the worst"—many of the detainees were innocent and had simply been in the wrong place that the wrong time. The administration produced very little evidence to justify holding most of them, and appears to have had very little evidence. It is hard to believe to believe that Cheney and Rumsfeld didn't know exactly what they were doing.

If holding innocent people actually would keep us safe from terrorism, many of us would be support doing it. The question of how much we can allow our own happiness to rest on injustice done to others is at the heart of politics. It's hard to walk away from the problem entirely. But it's also probably not an accident that in Le Guin's fable no real explanation is given for why her city's happiness should depend on the suffering of a child. There's something lazy about accepting such claims at face value rather than looking for an alternative. Cheney and Rumsfeld were probably right that getting into the question of the guilt or innocence of the detainees would be politically difficult and embarrassing. So they choose to sweep the problem under the rug, along with the lives hundreds of people who had done nothing wrong. We owe it to those people not to take the easy way out, but to put in the work it takes to build a society whose safety doesn't depend on locking up innocent people.

How getting in sync with your partner can lead to increased intimacy and sexual desire

Researchers discover a link between nonverbal synchronization and relationship success.

Sex & Relationships
  • Scientists say coordinating movements leads to increased intimacy and sexual desire in a couple.
  • The improved rapport and empathy was also observed in people who didn't know each other.
  • Non-verbal clues are very important in the development stages of a relationship.
Keep reading Show less

How humans evolved to live in the cold

Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Surprising Science
  • According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
  • Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
  • Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
Keep reading Show less

Setting a maximum wage for CEOs would be good for everyone

Could this be the long-awaited solution to economic inequality?

Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on September 12, 2017 in Cupertino, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

Under capitalism, the argument goes, it's every man for himself. Through the relentless pursuit of self-interest, everyone benefits, as if an invisible hand were guiding each of us toward the common good. Everyone should accordingly try to get as much as they can, not only for their goods but also for their labour. Whatever the market price is is, in turn, what the buyer should pay. Just like the idea that there should be a minimum wage, the idea that there should be a maximum wage seems to undermine the very freedom that the free market is supposed to guarantee.

Keep reading Show less