Insider Look at GITMO Debate

The debate over Guantanamo Bay has been raging now for over 7 years.

A legal debate that made its way to the Supreme Court and had decisions handed down by the highest court in the country. They ruled on the legality of military tribunals and said the tribunals were the proper way to hold the trials if they met certain guidelines. Those guidelines were implemented by the Bush Administration in accordance with the highest court in the country so that we could provide a court system to put terrorists on trial.

Let’s be perfectly honest, Guantanamo Bay is a prison meant to house the world’s worst terrorists captured on the battlefield defined by the President and Congress as the Global War on Terror. Men who show no allegiance to any country, men who come from all walks of life from poor farmers, to elite college students working on Masters Degrees, doctors, engineers and list goes on. All men united by one cause, radical Islam. To defeat America and the Jews and implement a global Islamic society bound by the rules of Islam. Osama Bin Laden had issued multiple declarations of war and yet we did nothing as a country until Sept 12, 2001. When we finally did react, both Democrats and Republicans, the politics got in the way of the mission. The opposition party, as always happens, begins to criticize in the name of politics to get back into power. The difference between our greatest generation and now is our politicians put themselves in front of America rather than America First.

I wrote an entire book about my experience fighting in the Global War on Terror and that experience culminated with an investigation that questioned my very integrity which ultimately led to my resignation from the US Army. An overzealous Army CID agent had opened two investigations of alleged abuse. The first was ignited by our interpreter who had witnessed my partner, an NCIS agent, subdue a detainee that was trying to resist. He used standard law enforcement tactics to take the man down and hold him on the ground.

The second incident involved an Afghan Sergeant Major (SGM) who was brought in to identify a prisoner and when he recognized the prisoner he smacked him pretty good. We immediately restrained the Afghan SGM and reported the incident through the military police. In the wake of Abu Ghraib it didn’t matter and even those actions were questioned and investigated. I let my honor and integrity speak for itself. I told the truth and the allegations were cleared because we had done nothing wrong. As a country we fall prey to the media hype that typically accompanies anything perceived as wrong. The good deeds that we perform get glossed over or flat out ignored because the doom and gloom is deemed more important.

The task force I had the honor of serving with had the ominous task of sorting through the detainees captured in the Global War on Terror. We had an entire section dedicated to the initial screenings of detainees and made determinations on the level of terror suspect or determined they were not related to terror. We had advanced cells that investigated terrorists who funneled money, the terrorists that trained new recruits and bodyguards for the Al Qaeda leadership. Federal agents and intelligence professionals dedicated to keeping only the terrorists and releasing the innocent detainees.

Federal agents worked tirelessly for months and years researching and investigating the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. They coordinated with the CIA, INTERPOL, FBI, Secret Service and anyone else who had information about these men. The reality was some of them did not have the evidence chain necessary for our civilian judicial system. They had literally been rounded up on the battlefield and as such there wasn’t evidence collected against them. Senior level Al Qaeda operatives were captured throughout the world in areas that did not allow a crime scene investigation that we would expect in America. This is not a law enforcement action, this is a military action in a time of war.

When I arrived in Afghanistan I learned that the responsibility of the task force was different when serving in a combat zone. Our responsibility became the sole group responsible for providing that evidence chain and exploiting it for intelligence value. We accompanied the war fighters as they embarked on missions to capture the terrorists still at bay. Once they were captured we had the responsibility to interrogate them for actionable intelligence and document everything that was found during the raid so it could be used as evidence. That evidence led to the transfer of more than one detainee from Bagram to Guantanamo Bay.

The terrorists know that the evidence even though it was acquired during the raid would not stand up in a civilian court. We didn’t have search warrants and we didn’t need them. This is a military action and not law enforcement. The more we transform this action into a “policing” activity the harder it will be for us to fight the extremists. It’s easy to play the “we follow the rule of law” card when sitting back safely in the United States critiquing but on the battlefield the rules are life or death.

From well before 9/11, Al Qaeda had our play book, they knew how to beat our interrogations from the start and they knew how to beat our system. They had an insider who fed them our interrogation manuals. And mainly because we are an open society. We have and abide by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and therefore we give our enemies information about how to beat us. President Bush understood this concept. He knew we had to lock down the information or they would continue to beat us. It’s extremely frustrating to watch as information is selectively released for political reasons rather than National Security reasons.

The knowledge Al Qaeda possessed, Chapter 17 of the Al Qaeda Training Manual, has been well documented and reported yet seems to be overlooked in the current arguments. The insider was Ali Mohammed, a former Egyptian army officer that had worked with the US Army in an exchange program. He later enlisted in the US Army and was assigned to a Special Forces unit at Ft Bragg and was even used as an instructor at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. He later became an FBI informant but was secretly a double agent and was supplying the terrorist network with information on how to beat our system. The terrorists that had been trained in Afghanistan throughout the 90’s knew how to beat our interrogations. They told stories meant to confuse and trip up our interrogators. And it worked. Our interrogations were relatively unsuccessful until we understood that concept.

To build on that concept, the terrorists knew how to beat our judicial system as well. Chapter 18 0f the Al Qaeda Training Manual instructs them to claim torture. It instructs them to seek out groups that will listen to them and accuse us of abuse whenever possible. The captured terrorists seek media attention and they know that our media will pick up on those stories and essentially become a tool for the enemy. I believe our media has the best of intentions but end up as the pawns of our enemy while trying to report the news. They also do not respond well to criticism rather that accepting the responsibility. Very much like our current politicians. They are more concerned about themselves than for America. That is unfortunate.

The memos regarding our Enhanced Interrogation Techniques should never have been released. We had a few tools left in our belt that actually worked and legally, though arguable, fell within the realm of the law. Those have now been taken away and the enemy now knows they can beat those techniques. The reality is we cannot use them in the future anyway. If a suspect is captured that knows information about an impending attack, the current President will be tested. He will be forced to answer the following question, “can I authorize more aggressive techniques to SAVE the citizens of the country I was elected to lead or am I willing to risk their lives to protect the rights of the man holding that information?” I fear an attack is imminent based on the answer that this President will be politically forced to give. I pray that my family is not affected by it but I know that is not possible. Everyone, including me, was affected by the events on the fateful day, Sept 11, 2001.

My concern for the future is how to care for the men and women who have sacrificed for this country. The Veterans whose selfless service gets glossed over by the harsh realities of war. If waterboarding is truly torture as argued then Legislation needs to be introduced to provide compensation to every graduate of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course. Ultimately if we determine it is too harsh for our enemies then we need to repair the damage we have inflicted on our own soldiers first.

In the end, the terrorists want a long drawn out conflict because they know the American people cannot stomach a long battle. We need quick decisive victories so we can get back to our daily lives. From day 1 of the Global War on Terror, we have been told that we need the resolve to sustain a long fight and yet 7 short years into that fight we have lost our will to continue. The Global War on Terror will rage much longer than this President will be in office even if he is elected for a second term. In the meantime, Americans must learn to appreciate the freedom and liberty provided merely by living in America.