Sunday, January 03, 2010


My brief visit to Watching America yesterday showed that the rest of the world's press has all sorts of New Year's resolutions for President Obama to embrace. For the most part, those articles contained sound advice, the kind I wish our president would consider. One, however, had some pretty sharp edges to go along with the advice, and deservedly so. Matthew Harwood's offering in the "Comment Is Free" section of the UK's Guardian considers the importance of the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and the way it should be done.

At first glance, it seems reasonable to conclude the Obama administration did its best in 2009 to restore the US constitution's bill of rights when handling suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay imprisoned by the Bush administration.

First and most importantly, President Obama made torture once again illegal. The administration then decided to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators in federal court in Manhattan, just streets away from where the World Trade Centre once stood. The Obama administration also announced the transfer of some detainees from Gitmo to a remote Illinois prison to make good his promise to close the controversial prison camps. (When this will actually happen, however, depends on Congress and security upgrades.) And on Saturday, the administration further signaled its confidence in the US justice system by charging the alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as an ordinary criminal in his attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day.

But these controversial and politically unpopular moves only look good from a rule of law standpoint if an observer studiously ignores the darker side of the Obama administration's approach to the detainees still languishing at Guantánamo Bay. Until these legal inconsistencies are corrected, the Obama administration's efforts to restore the rule of law will be one giant sleight-of-hand. One more glaring example that "hope" has been drowned in Obama's political moat this new year.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Harwood points out that the federal trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators and of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab are being held in civilian courts because they are slam dunks. Enough evidence exists outside the tainted garbage dredged up by torture and lying third parties that convictions are assured. Most of the rest of the detainees will still have their cases heard by military commissions. President Obama did a little tweaking of that law in October, but the bulk of the system is still rife with abuse. For example, hearsay will be allowed, which means the defendants will not be able to cross-examine their accusers. That hearsay testimony will be admitted as "fact."

Mr. Harwood is even more caustic about the trumpeted transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Illinois:

Another misconception about the Obama administration's return to the rule of law is its plan to purchase the Thomson Correctional Centre in rural Illinois to shutter Guantánamo. Certainly the location will change, but the horror-show will continue. As Amnesty International put it, "The only thing that President Obama is doing with this announcement is changing the zip code of Guantánamo." That's because the detainees transferred from Gitmo to Thomson, who have not been charged with any crime, will either face trial before military commissions or will continue to be detained indefinitely. What's monstrous about this is that it's reasonable to assume that at least some of the estimated 100 detainees to be transferred have done nothing wrong. [Emphasis added}

Precisely. Less than a quarter of the remaining detainees were captured by the US directly on the battlefield. The rest were handed over by others who received bounties. The overwhelming majority of those sent to Gitmo had done nothing wrong, had not plotted against the US, had not engaged in terrorist activities. They were captured and sent there because of family feuds or because they were easy marks for the bounty hunters. Yet many of them are still rotting away in Cuba. Soon, they will have a change of scenery, but that's about it.

And those who are assumed to be terrorists, with the tainted proof coming from torture, may never even get a military commission trial. They will simply be held indefinitely. So much for restoring the rule of law.

So here's Mr. Harwood's proposed New Year's Resolution for President Obama:

So here's a New Year's resolution for President Obama if he wants to restore US adherence to the rule of law, respect human rights, and close Guantánamo for good: either charge the remaining 198 detainees with a crime or release them. Anything less shows that political concerns cynically trump Obama's own sworn oath to preserve the constitution.

That would be the kind of change, promised during the campaign, that I would be grateful for.

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Blogger Hecate said...

So mote it be.

1:20 PM  

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