Hannity's dubious assertion: "There's nobody at Guantánamo Bay" being detained "for nothing"
Research ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN
Sean Hannity dubiously claimed that "[t]here's nobody at Guantánamo Bay that's there for nothing." In fact, a recent National Journal article and a study by Seton Hall Law School show that many detainees are being held with no evidence of having committed hostile acts against the United States or of having ties to Al Qaeda.
During the March 3 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity claimed: "There's nobody at Guantánamo Bay that's there for nothing." Hannity made his remark in response to co-host Alan Colmes's charge that many detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, "never did anything" that warranted their detention. In fact, Stuart Taylor wrote in the February 3 edition of National Journal that "[a]t least eight prisoners at Guantanamo are there even though they are no longer designated as enemy combatants." In addition, a February 8 Seton Hall University School of Law study, authored by two lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees, analyzed Defense Department data on 517 Guantánamo Bay detainees, finding that more than half "are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies," and that a plurality have no apparent ties to Al Qaeda. A March 6 New York Times article about the Pentagon's release of 5,000 pages of documents regarding Guantánamo detainees reported that although many of them have confessed to terrorist ties, "there are many more, it seems, who sound like Abdur Sayed Rahman, a self-described Pakistani villager who says he was arrested at his modest home in January 2002, flown off to Afghanistan and later accused of being the deputy foreign minister of that country's deposed Taliban regime."
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, many of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay are reportedly being held without evidence of having committed hostile acts against the United States, or of having ties to Al Qaeda. Hannity and Colmes made their comments during a discussion with Flagg Youngblood, program and development director at Young America's Foundation (YAF), about former Taliban spokesman and current Yale University student Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi. YAF is a conservative organization that, according to its mission statement, "is committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values."
Despite Hannity's suggestion that "[t]here's nobody at Guantánamo Bay" being held "for nothing," ample evidence exists to the contrary. For instance, as Media Matters has previously noted, a February 3 National Journal report documented the apparent lack of evidence against many of the detainees:
Some of the men [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld described [in a June 27, 2005, statement] -- the terrorists, the trainers, the financiers, and the battlefield captures -- are indeed at Guantanamo. 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.
Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies. Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time. And much of the evidence -- even the classified evidence -- gathered by the Defense Department against these men is flimsy, second-, third-, fourth- or 12th-hand. It's based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars.
Even as the CIA was deciding that most of the prisoners at Guantanamo didn't have much to say, Pentagon officials were getting frustrated with how little the detainees were saying. So they ramped up the pressure and gave interrogators more license.
The questions to the detainees about 9/11 and Al Qaeda and about each other were so constant, so repetitive, so oppressive that some prisoners, out of exasperation or fatigue or fear, just gave in and said, sure, I'm a terrorist. False confessions and false accusations are rampant, according to the lawyers and the Defense Department records.
One man slammed his hands on the table during an especially long interrogation and yelled, "Fine, you got me; I'm a terrorist." The interrogators knew it was a sarcastic statement. But the government, sometime later, used it as evidence against him: "Detainee admitted he is a terrorist" reads his tribunal evidence. The interrogators were so outraged that they sought out the detainee's personal representative to explain it to him that the statement was not a confession.
The National Journal reported that, according to Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's "bin Laden unit," "[b]y the fall of 2002, it was common knowledge around CIA circles that fewer than 10 percent of Guantánamo's prisoners were high-value terrorist operatives."
Further, the National Journal also reported that several prisoners are being held even at Guantánamo after "no longer [being] designated as enemy combatants":
At least eight prisoners at Guantanamo are there even though they are no longer designated as enemy combatants. One perplexed attorney, whose client does not want public attention, learned that the man was no longer considered an enemy combatant only by reading a footnote in a Justice Department motion asking a federal judge to put a slew of habeas corpus cases on hold. The attorney doesn't know why the man is still in Cuba.
Additionally, a February 8 review of government documents by Seton Hall law school professor Mark Denbeaux and attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two Guantánamo detainees, found, among other things, that "[f]ifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies" and that "[o]nly 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for [the] capture of suspected enemies." The report also found that "[f]or 2% of the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified."
The March 6 article in The New York Times reported that the recently released Pentagon documents regarding the detainees "underscore the considerable difficulties that both the military and the detainees appear to have had in wrestling with the often thin or conflicting evidence involved." From the article:
Among the hundreds of men imprisoned by the American military at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, there are those who brashly assert their determination to wage war against what they see as the infidel empire led by the United States.
"May God help me fight the unfaithful ones," one Saudi detainee, Ghassan Abdallah Ghazi al-Shirbi, said at a military hearing where he was accused of being a lieutenant of Al Qaeda.
But there are many more, it seems, who sound like Abdur Sayed Rahman, a self-described Pakistani villager who says he was arrested at his modest home in January 2002, flown off to Afghanistan and later accused of being the deputy foreign minister of that country's deposed Taliban regime.
"I am only a chicken farmer in Pakistan," he protested to American military officers at Guantánamo. "My name is Abdur Sayed Rahman. Abdur Zahid Rahman was the deputy foreign minister of the Taliban."
From the March 2 broadcast of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
COLMES: All right. Well, we have people in Guantánamo Bay who never did anything, according to our own Justice Department, who had no connection to terrorism, and yet they're locked up, incarcerated, no attorney, no legal justice system working on their behalf. But would he [Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi] be better off at Yale or being trained as a terrorist some place?
YOUNGBLOOD: Well, again, he said he was the luckiest man on earth that he wasn't in Guantánamo Bay.
COLMES: He is very lucky not to be. You're right.
YOUNGBLOOD: You're right. So I think that's probably the place where he should be, if he admitted that himself.
COLMES: Right. But he's not a terrorist, as you suggest.
HANNITY: Hang on. There's nobody at Guantánamo that's there for no good reason.
COLMES: That's not what the Justice Department says.
HANNITY: Excuse me. Do you mind? There's nobody at Guantánamo Bay that's there for nothing. I want to talk about this guy. Not only is he a spokesman for the Taliban, he's an apologist for the Taliban. He made excuses for the Taliban, one of the worst, most brutal regimes in the last hundred years of human history. Isn't it true?