Corine Hegland, the National Journal reporter who, in February 2006, broke some of the first stories about dissenting military officers in Guantánamo’s kangaroo court tribunals (the Combatant Status Review Tribunals), is back with an edgy cover story that begins with former Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer Barbara Olshansky’s accidental side-trip to Ethiopia, during a visit to Africa, where she stumbled upon the new East African front in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” –- the secret prisons for Somali jihadi suspects, ostensibly run by Africans but in fact controlled by the FBI, who seem, in the Horn of Africa at least, to have operatives prepared to assume the reviled post-9/11 methods of the too-visible CIA.
The story, which is very much alive and reprehensible, was then broken three days later by Human Rights Watch, and was partly the subject of an impressive documentary, Kidnapped to Order (broadcast on Channel 4 in June), in which Ghost Plane author Stephen Grey reported on the “extraordinary rendition” program, traveling to Africa to interview former prisoners, who talked in detail about the rendition and imprisonment of men, women and children.
From there, Hegland takes a tour through Guantánamo’s history, via Olshansky’s part in Rasul v. Bush, the key case in June 2004 that pressured the Supreme Court to grant habeas rights to the detainees, but which has been the object of obfuscation, obstruction and vindictive contrariness by the administration ever since, ending up in the quagmire of suggestions and counter-suggestions that surround the prospective closing of Guantánamo. This takes in recent comments by Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales, discussions with lawyers, and an analysis of the ways in which indefinite detention without trial has been attempted in Canada, the UK and Israel.
The most optimistic passage –- in terms of motivating the American people to action, if not to deep political understanding –- is probably the one in which Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and long-time opponent of Guantánamo, abandoned his attempts to persuade a blank-eyed audience at a public meeting of the evils of last fall’s Military Commissions Act -– which gave the President the power to detain people as enemy combatants “without access to any of the information which the government was relying on to make that determination, [so that] somebody could be there for three years, four years, or for life, without access to a judge, based on secret evidence” –- and instead responded to an audience member who raised his hand to say, “I’m a middle-school teacher who can no longer say the Bill of Rights is sacrosanct. What would you say in my place?” by “abandon[ing] his pitch for the bill and [giving] the group the pep talk it had traveled overnight to hear. ‘The only answer is, you fight back,’ he said. ‘You can stand in front of your class and say, get involved, fight back.’”
What’s sad about even this limited success, of course, is that Levin’s attempts to interest his compatriots in rewriting the administration’s sweeping definition of “enemy combatants” fell on deaf ears, and Hegland also uses Levin’s proposals to demonstrate the bewildering diversity of views about Guantánamo, noting that the White House threatened to veto the bill, saying that Levin’s provision would “interfere with the ‘effective conduct of the war on terror’ and with the president’s constitutional authority as the commander-in-chief,” and that even human rights groups “yawned at” his proposal, because they were “focused first on the restoration of habeas corpus, something that Levin also supports, and [worried] that adding substantive protections to the tribunals would sap the strength of their arguments for habeas.” Although she concludes the article by talking to Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First, who insists that, as with terror prosecutions before 9/11, successful prosecutions can be arranged within the existing criminal justice system, the article suggests, overall, that dark clouds hover over any prospect of any easy escape from the bleak and conflicted story of Guantánamo.
Perhaps the most memorable passage in the whole article is the one in which, reeling from her new discovery in east Africa, Barbara Olshansky declares, “It already is the day after Guantánamo. We haven’t gotten everyone out, obviously, but they’re just putting people in other prisons.”
Read the article. There’s more that I haven’t mentioned in this brief review, and it’s here if you missed it at the top.
For more on the abuse of human rights in the “War on Terror,” see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.
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