Gitmo and Gulag

by John Q on March 4, 2008

My namesake, Canadian terrorism expert Tom Quiggin, takes a look at the Guantanamo Bay trials, and notes their adherence to the principles laid down by Stalin’s chief prosecutor, Andrey Vyshinsky.

Quiggin notes that

According to Col. Morris Davis, who is a former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, it appears that the plan was made ahead of time to have no acquittals, no matter what the evidence was to reveal. General counsel William Haynes is quoted as saying (according to Col. Davis) “We can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? … We’ve got to have convictions.”

As Australian readers will recall, Davis resigned his position in disgust after the only trial to reach court, that of David Hicks, was shut down when the Australian government intervened to secure a plea bargain, with Hicks pleading guilty in return for a sentence that saw him returned to Australia then kept in prison just long enough to ensure his silence for the election.

Hicks’ guilty plea led to his being described by the Howard government’s fan club as a “self-confessed terrorist”. Of course, the same description applies to many of those convicted in Stalin’s show trials, where charges of sabotage and terrorism were a routine part of the rap sheet (as with all show trials, some may even have been guilty, but their confessions prove nothing).



Twisted_Colour 03.04.08 at 10:31 am

with Hicks pleading guilty in return for a sentence that saw him returned to Australia then kept in prison just long enough to ensure his silence for the election.

A fat lot of effing good that did ’em.

Looks like the honorable Mr. 7% Nelson is gonna have to look to Johnny for some lessons in fear mongering and race baiting.


Great Zamfir 03.04.08 at 10:44 am

I’d say William Haynes is asolutely correct. They’ve been holding these guys for so long that they can never explain it.


abb1 03.04.08 at 10:47 am

no man – no problem


Martin G. 03.04.08 at 11:05 am

At some point – I forget when, exactly – someone in the Justice Dept. made the argument that the reason the detainees had to be detained for so long was that it was extraordinarily difficult to find evidence against such complicated crimes as terrorism in such complicated territories as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I remember thinking “I’m terribly sorry we keep detaining your son without trial, Ms. Smith, but we’re having a hard time finding evidence against him.” It’s been a show trial from the start.

Maybe that was what was happening with the torture, too. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seemed pretty well broken when he made his confession. William Gibson has “a nice bit about it”: in his latest novel, _Spook Country_.


Anderson 03.04.08 at 2:35 pm

Alas, the link to The Other Quiggin is blocked by my handy workplace filter, which thinks the page is a “chat” page.

If only T. Quiggin had declaimed, pronounced, or avowed, rather than merely chatting.


ajay 03.04.08 at 2:48 pm

4: if the Internet had been invented in the Augustan Age, every page would be a declamation page.


Ugh 03.04.08 at 2:56 pm

No no no, you see, this is all wrong. Only if our show trials are exactly like Stalin’s, and only if our gulag is exactly like the USSR’s, can we be compared to them. But since our show trials and gulag have marginal differences (did the people in the Siberian gulags get lemon chicken, huh? And certainly it wasn’t sunny there, unlike Club Gitmo) that make them not as egregiously horrible as the USSR’s, everything is fine. It’s like the light from the city on the hill blots everything out and makes it all better.


stostosto 03.04.08 at 3:21 pm

There you go again, trivialising the Gulag, eh?


Jim S. 03.04.08 at 4:16 pm

Well as a matter of fact the Gulag involved millions whereas Guantanamo and co. has involved a few thousand. Further, there has been much and continuous criticism, not least from military personnel, of such practices.

This person has never supported such practices and never will. Still, one can vehemently oppose them and nevertheless say that they are not as great as what has always been going on in the Arab and other Moslem state, let alone the Gulag.


abb1 03.04.08 at 5:09 pm

@9, does this apply to the phrase “show trial” too?


harry b 03.04.08 at 6:37 pm

That’s almost exactly what one of the Law Lords — after checking wikipedia I’m sure it was Denning — said about reopening the Birmingham 6 trial — that even if they were innocent we shouldn’t re-open the trial because it would undermine the public confidence in the system of justice.

Completely OT, I’m glad I checked wikipedia because I was going to say it was Devlin, not Denning, which I find, to my surprise and pleasure, would have been a dreadful slur; Devlin apparently actively campaigned to reopen the Guildford 4 case.


DC 03.04.08 at 7:05 pm

“…because it would undermine the public confidence in the system of justice.”

Presenting “an appalling vista”, was the phrase.


Dave 03.04.08 at 7:20 pm

Fiat justicia, ruat coeli my arse, as we say back in the Old Country….


abb1 03.04.08 at 7:53 pm

I just finished watching Taxi to the Dark Side. The documentary says that not a single officer or above has been punished for torture, murders, kidnappings, all that. And apparently one of the bills passed by the congress gives total absolution to all the administration officials involved.

It occurred to me: say what you want about Stalinism, but at least there, after a few years, the butchers would always share the fate of their victims, poetic justice fulfilled. That’s a nice feature for a regime, I think. Something to aspire to.


Mrs Tilton 03.04.08 at 10:18 pm

Harry, dc @11, 12,

indeed CT’s own K. Healy has alluded to Denning’s appalling vistas on this very website, with what I still maintain is the absolutely no-contest hands-down best post title evah.

I’m pleased Harry checked and thus avoided placing this on poor Patrick Devlin’s head. Devlin got one big argument (emm) appalling wrong and, quite rightly, had his arse handed to him on a plate for it. But that to one side (and though I am prejudiced in his favour) he was, I think, a decent enough sort. I quite liked his Trial by Jury; Easing the Passing was loads of gossippy fun; and even in death he provided for boffo entertainment — just ask Lord Mackay!


richard 03.05.08 at 2:25 am

Only if our show trials are exactly like Stalin’s, and only if our gulag is exactly like the USSR’s, can we be compared to them

Sorry, they will always be incomparable, because one was done by evil death-lovin’ commies and the other was done by the Great and Noble Beacon of Freedom. cf. “Hitler factor” for all cases of mass killing that can’t quite be termed genocide.


idle hands 03.05.08 at 10:45 am

but does this principle apply to Hitler and Stalin themselves? Do they get a free pass, too, because they weren’t exactly like one another, either?


Sans S 03.05.08 at 1:18 pm

The third last paragraph in the referenced article starts with the following line:

“The intelligence community was never designed to produce evidence,” …

I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of this period in history and at the same time cring in the reflection that humanity doesn’t evolve in any optimal progression.

I guess I can reinforce the paragraph’s sentiment with my own statement of probability: Intelligence is in a Straussian vortex. Truth and language are continuously forced apart. What a waste!


John Quiggin 03.05.08 at 8:59 pm

Denning is an interesting case. Back in the 70s he was viewed with great approval by the (mildly) progressive lawyers I knew, essentially because of his willingness to legislate from the bench. But the assumption that his laws would be better than those passed by Parliament turned out to be wrong.

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