In Defense of Matt Olsen

By Robert Chesney
Thursday, July 14, 2011, 3:40 PM

I want to pile on to Ben's post in defense of NCTC nominee Matt Olsen.  Ben notes that some are intimating that Matt somehow is soft on terrorism because the GTMO Review Task Force concluded that some existing detainees could safely be transferred away.

I do hope that anyone who attacks Matt along these lines is prepared to condemn (i) the government and military officials who approved the release of a much larger group of GTMO detainees between 2002 and 2008, (ii) the members of our armed services who have released thousands upon thousands from our custody in Afghanistan over the past nine years, and (iii) the members of our armed services who released well more than one hundred thousand people from our custody in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.  Of course no one is going to do that; that would be ridiculous, even though there must be a substantial amount of recidivism when it comes to all those releases.  No one is going to do that because we appreciate that detainee screening is exceedingly difficult, that there are false positives in the capture process and that it is not in your strategic interest to hold such persons once you come to the judgment that this the case, that mistakes necessarily will occur (both improper holds, and mistaken releases), and that people of good will are doing their level best to grapple with all this.  This was true at GTMO years ago and today, just as at it was true in recent years at the BTIF, Camp Cropper, and Camp Bucca, and as it is today at the DFIP.

That doesn't mean we should pay no attention to screening and transfer policies.  Far from it.  But it does mean we treat those policy dilemmas as real and difficult issues, not as wedge issues that incidentally tarnish the reputation of the hard-working professionals who have been working in those systems.

(Full disclosure: I served as an advisor in 2009 to the Detention Policy Task Force, which did not deal with the individual Guantanamo detainees.  Matt's task force was a different one.  I did not work with him or his task force.)