Defense Department Prison Policies Ferment Radicalism

Rolan Gunaratna, Director of International Political Violence and Terrorism at the University of Singapore, was asked by the Defense Department to study prison conditions. He concluded that American army prison politics made no sense and the end result was increasing the number of prisoners who became radical. As he put is so succinctly, “In our assessment, many of the detainees were radicalized in those facilities.” He also pointed out that invading Iraq brought al-Qaeda closer to Europe.

Anyone who has studied the history of crime and prisons knows that mixing violent criminals with the ordinary criminal has one logical result – non-violent criminals become more violent. The Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney/Gonzales thesis argues we must place in jail all terrorists whether we know the individual is one or not, because it is better to err on the side of caution. I have repeatedly heard this argument from supporters of Bush and the war in Iraq. There are several basic flaws in this argument including the one raised by Gunaratna, that only a small percentage of people at Guantanamo are violent terrorists, the majority are people who were foot soldiers in the Taliban, innocent villagers who got caught in an American or Afghan army sweep or some idealists who joined up due to hatred of the West. Incarcerating these non-violent individuals with radical Islamists invariably gets them a four-year education in how to become a radical Muslim. In the decision to “err on the side of caution” we have erred on the side of logic. We have provided radical Islamists an incredible opportunity to radicalize those who were not radicals. We also have radicalized them because being thrust into prison for reasons unknown to the individual must result in that person hating those who placed him in prison and moving him further along the road to becoming a full fledged radical.

The Gunaratna study makes even more important the necessity for placing people on trial, discovering who are the innocent, and dealing with radicals who are guilty of something. An increasing problem is uncovering exactly what was the crime of the radical. We are now years removed from a witness offering testimony a jury might believe, assuming the witness is still alive.
Information from National Defense Magazine