The Corner

So What?

Drudge had a red headline up last night: “U.S. Has Detained 83,000 in War on Terror” linking to this AP story. It begins:

The United States has detained more than 83,000 foreigners in the four years of the war on terror, enough to nearly fill the NFL’s largest stadium. The administration defends the practice of holding detainees in prisons from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay as a critical tool to stop the insurgency in Iraq, maintain stability in Afghanistan and get known and suspected terrorists off the streets.

Roughly 14,500 detainees remain in U.S. custody, primarily in Iraq.

The number has steadily grown since the first CIA paramilitary officers touched down in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, setting up more than 20 facilities including the “Salt Pit,” an abandoned factory outside Kabul used for CIA detention and interrogation.

In Iraq, the number in military custody hit a peak on Nov. 1, according to military figures. Nearly 13,900 suspects were in U.S. custody there that day _ partly because U.S. offensives in western Iraq put pressure on insurgents before the October constitutional referendum and December parliamentary elections.

Andrew Sullivan was very upset by this news:

Just when you think you have heard the worst about this administration’s chaotic, ad hoc, incompetent and intermittently criminal detention policies in the war on terror, a trap-door opens and you fall down another story. It is important to recognize that this administration reserves the right to detain anyone, include American citizens, anywhere, for any amount of time, without charge, sometimes without even documentation, and reserves the right to torture them as well. There are now close to 4,000 held without charge for a year. It is past time for the legislature and the courts to fight back and restrain – or at least bring some kind of order and legality – to this astonishing record. If the administration will not grant these prisoners POW status, it must agree to new rules that allow the innocent to be distinguished from the guilty, and to bar torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for ever. Pass the McCain Amendment now.

Me: I don’t get it. The 83,000 number is a total ever held over four years. Most detainees aren’t held long. It wouldn’t trouble me in the slightest if that number turned out to be 183,000. Detaining people is the more humane treatment. Shooting them on the spot is the less humane treatment. Andrew seems to be in the mode where nearly ever piece of news proves the positon he already holds, but I am at a total loss to understand why this is a “trap door” to a morally less desirable status than the stygian depths he’d already consigned America to. We keep only about 4,000 detainees for more than a year. The number of detainees held more than 2 years in Iraq? 229. Andrew’s point that we should have established rules for dealing with these people is fine, but it’s also a rife with question-begging. Presumably some rules allowed for the release of tens of thousands of detainees, many in a relatively short period of time. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but the McCain amendment wouldn’t have any effect on the numbers of detainees one way or another.

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