unaccountable authority tends to failFrom a must-read column (note: not a permalink, which is not available) summing up the findings of an extensive National Journal investigation into the identity of Guantanamo detainees:
A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, let alone on "the battlefield in Afghanistan" (as Bush asserted) while "trying to kill American forces" (as McClellan claimed).Freedom works. Government checks and balances work. Systems of law work. True, they sometimes fail, as in the case of 9/11, and American civilians have now been successfully attacked at home by foreign terrorists once in the history of the nation. But the best way to ensure that we will be attacked again, and that our enemies will have success, will be to continue with the fiction that the president has absolute wartime power and cannot be compelled to submit to constraints imposed by the legislature or the courts. We know that the surveillance state drinks in a massive stream of picayune and meaningless information, and does poorly at pursuing real threats; similarly, a system of government that detains innocent men is wasting resources that could be used to genuinely protect us.
Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members.
Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.
The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by villagers of highly doubtful reliability.
The administration keeps saying that it needs unchecked power in order to ensure our safety. But an administration with unchecked power is likely to fail at that task, while it erodes the freedom that is at the core of our national identity. Why are so many Americans so anxious to trade in the success of the American system of government for the East German model? And why do so many people continue to cling to the illusion that the primary purpose of power is to keep them safe?