Friday, March 20, 2009

Wilkerson, Bagram, & Guantanamo

This week former SoS Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson penned a very revealing, and sad, editorial on the situation at Guantanamo and the Bush administration. The key revelation being that some in the Bush Administration, including of course Rumsfeld and Cheney, realized they were carelessly picking up innocents in Afghanistan but chose nonetheless to plunk them down in Guantanamo - and keep them there. Not a big surprise if you know some of the detainees' stories.

As Daphne Eviatar points out, while Obama's team has made some changes, the premise is basically the same - and the results are likely the same as well. There are over 600 people sitting in the prison at Bagram, without the same "privileges" given to those at Guantanamo - they cannot challenge their detention in the US courts, nor are they given the marginal process of a tribunal to determine if they are even combatants. And unlike Guantanamo, Obama has given no indication that he is going to shut down Bagram, a prison with a major expansion in the works.

And in OTHER NEWS, Elena Kagan was just confirmed as Solicitor General. Her belief is that those at Bagram do not deserve due process. Presumably, we could pick up a Muslim on the moon, if someone on Earth suggested (for whatever reason) that we do so, take them to Bagram, and never present them with an opportunity to find out why exactly they are in Afghanistan. The framework that resulted in the detention of innocents remains.

In the liberal heart (well, in many) there is a lot of goodwill, still, toward Obama right now - and justifiably so, as his campaign challenged Bush torture and detention policies. But the reality is that a lot is unclear and change hasn't exactly happened. For example, the Justice Department is arguing that those at Bagram were picked up on the battlefield in Bagram. And they're not saying who at Bagram wasn't picked up in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Kagan has argued in her confirmation hearing that someone picked up in the Philippines for suspected financing of Al-Qaeda is part of the battlefield - and can be held indefinitely (by the US of course). Annnnd....where are they going to be held, exactly, I ask? The CIA is now allowed to detain people short-term, but not long term. It seems likely to me and within Obama's frameworks that people captured outside Afghanistan could be plunked in Bagram, as before, without habeas corpus. What legal gymnastics can we look forward to that will justify that?

The Obama Administration needs to take steps to ensure that it doesn't create unjust hells for the innocent and Muslim. They haven't even begun to do so. Yes, I know reviews take time...but they are close to creating Guantanamo 2.0.

Update: Also, my diary on the state secrets privilege and Obama PR has now made the TalkLeft reclist. It's not exactly current, but it does demonstrate the ability of the Obama team to talk a crock and scream "national security!!!" if they need to.

Update 2: The kicker is that the US reserves the right to detain with impunity, and when they screw up, refuse responsibility. It's shameful that when we go wrong we don't at least allow people to sue in court.

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