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Can a bad reason be better than no reason at all?

Over the weekend, the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the UK’s Guardian released hundreds of documents profiling past and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay. These materials are part of the thousands of documents that Bradley Manning allegedly provided to WikiLeaks. In the wake of these disclosures, Canadian media is reporting that Khadr

continued “to provide valuable information” to U.S. military interrogators at the detention centre in Guantanamo Bay nearly two years after he was captured in Afghanistan, according to a classified 2004 document . . .

According to the memo, Khadr, only 17 at the time the document was produced, provided details of “high intelligence value to the United States,” which was cited as a reason for his “continued detention.”

Lest you think that this “revelation” should somehow serve to justify Khadr’s detention, there are several things to keep in mind. First, as Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney points out:
“He was (15) when he was first arrested -what is his value?” he asked. “It’s very clear that evidence obtained in Guantanamo Bay is tainted – it’s unreliable.”
Second, intelligence can get stale very quickly. So setting aside the question of what sort of “high value” intelligence a teenager is capable of supplying, there remains the issue of how reliable and useful dated intelligence — information gathered years after the detainee has been held in virtual isolation — can possibly be.
Third, taken in their entirety, these recent disclosures actually demonstrate how unjustifiable many of the prolonged detentions were. The intelligence relied upon by analysts and interrogators was itself flawed, and oftentimes the product of torture. The proffered reasons for holding many individuals seemed threadbare at best. As reported by the Guardian:

The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or enemy fighters, than on extracting intelligence. Among inmates who proved harmless were an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim.

The old man was transported to Cuba to interrogate him about “suspicious phone numbers” found in his compound. The 14-year-old was shipped out merely because of “his possible knowledge of Taliban…local leaders”

The documents also reveal [that] US authorities relied heavily on information obtained from a small number of detainees under torture. They continued to maintain this testimony was reliable even after admitting that the prisoners who provided it had been mistreated.

And as the ACLU points out:

There is a lot of information in these documents that is of great value to the public, but keep in mind that they’re all government documents, and only give one side of the story. The best way for the public to learn the government’s justification for its actions would have been, and still is, for the government to present the evidence in a federal court of law.

Perhaps the best take-away from all this is the following analysis from The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson:
Here are some of the reasons we’ve held people at Guantánamo, according to files obtained by WikiLeaks and, then, by several news organizations: A sharecropper because he was familiar with mountain passes; an Afghan “because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khost and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver”; an Uzbek because he could talk about his country’s intelligence service, and a Bahraini about his country’s royal family (both of those nations are American allies); an eighty-nine year old man, who was suffering from dementia, to explain documents that he said were his son’s; an imam, to speculate on what worshippers at his mosque were up to; a cameraman for Al Jazeera, to detail its operations; a British man, who had been a captive of the Taliban, because “he was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics”; Taliban conscripts, so they could explain Taliban conscription techniques; a fourteen-year-old named Naqib Ullah, described in his file as a “kidnap victim,” who might know about the Taliban men who kidnapped him. (Ullah spent a year in the prison.)
Our reasons, in short, do not always really involve a belief that a prisoner is dangerous to us or has committed some crime; sometimes (and this is more debased) we mostly think we might find him useful.