My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention”

21.5.09

First off, the President has lost none of his oratorical powers. His national security speech today, in which he sought — and, I think, largely found — the correct balance with regard to the horrendous legacy of Guantánamo, was well crafted and delivered. He delicately put down the fearmongers in both parties who have recently tried to make political capital out of Guantánamo, laid down facts about the prison with an admirable clarity, eloquently called for cross-party unity on this most pressing of issues, and also explained his proposed solutions in a comprehensive manner.

I analyze these points in the article below, but although I believe that this speech will help the President score points from those who have, of late, been seeking to undermine him, I also have to point out that, on two issues — the use of Military Commissions and the proposal to introduce a form of “preventive detention” — no amount of eloquence can erode my implacable opposition to both suggestions.

The President began by being openly critical of his predecessors, who, “faced with an uncertain threat … made a series of hasty decisions.” Even though those decisions were “motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people,” he made it clear that many of them were “based upon fear rather than foresight,” and, interestingly, noted that the Bush administration “all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions” — a statement which appears to refer to the inadequacy of the evidence against numerous Guantánamo prisoners, which I have been writing about for over three years, and have highlighted in two recent articles.

Obama proceeded to point out that the Bush administration had also set aside America’s core principles “as luxuries that we could no longer afford,” but also extended the responsibility for allowing this to happen to “politicians, journalists and citizens,” who all “fell silent” in this “season of fear.”

“In other words,” he continued, “we went off course,” and he suggested that the American people had realized this when they “nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach — one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay.”

Moving on to specifics, Obama defended the absolute prohibition on the use of torture — although he didn’t, of course, mention some reservations about loopholes in this policy that I explored here — and unreservedly refuted claims that waterboarding was either necessary or useful (a familiar refrain, but one particularly focused just now on Dick Cheney, who appears to be on an endless Torture Tour). “I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe,” he said, but added, “I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”

On Guantánamo, Obama and his team had certainly done some research. The President made a point of mentioning twice that the Bush administration’s trials by Military Commission had led to only three convictions in seven years, and that 525 prisoners were released from the prison under his predecessor’s watch, and proceeded to emphasize that he was “cleaning up something that is — quite simply — a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.”

Stressing that “the problem of what to do with Guantánamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantánamo in the first place,” Obama pointed out that “the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks” — the court order to release 17 Uighurs into the United States, and the Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling on the invalidity of the Military Commissions — had taken place under the Bush administration, and, in the case of the Supreme Court, in a Court that “was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents.” This was true, but the emphasis he placed on it conveniently allowed him to evade responsibility for not intervening to prevent an appeal court from shamefully reversing the ruling about the Uighurs just three months ago.

Having established this background, Obama then openly criticized “some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue,” adding, “Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country.” Explaining, “I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans,” he insisted that “the wrong answer is to pretend that this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo,” adding, “Our security interests won’t permit it. Our courts won’t allow it. And neither should our conscience.”

Moving on to the specific issues relating to the closure of Guantánamo, Obama began by assuring would-be critics that “we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people” (a statement intended, I think, to provide reassurance that the Uighurs are not a threat). He then got down to details, beginning with a pledge that, “[w]here demanded by justice and national security,” “some detainees” — mercifully, not all 240 — will be transferred to secure prisons on the US mainland (with some added reassurance that “nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal ‘supermax’ prisons”).

After dismissing some of the shrill rhetoric about the recidivism rates of released prisoners by blaming it on the Bush administration’s “poorly planned, haphazard approach” to releasing prisoners (and not, of course, mentioning that another shoddy and exaggerated report was leaked by his own Defense Department just yesterday), Obama promised that, “when feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts,” mentioning, thankfully, how federal courts have been perfectly capable of prosecuting terrorists (as, for example, in the cases of Ramzi Yousef and Zacarias Moussaoui), and also mentioning today’s reassuring announcement that one of Guantánamo’s “high-value detainees,” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an alleged associate of the African embassy bombers, will be tried in a federal court in New York.

More worryingly, Obama also confirmed that, in some cases, he would indeed be pressing for trials using a revised version of the Military Commissions that were first conceived as an appropriate venue for “terror suspects” by Dick Cheney and David Addington, arguing — wrongly, I believe — that they have a noble history, are “an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war,” and will, with some tweaking, be “fair, legitimate, and effective.”

We can at least be reassured that, unlike Cheney and Addington, Obama promised to “work with Congress and legal authorities across the political spectrum on legislation” relating to the Commissions, but I have to say that I will continue to campaign against the revival of the Commissions in any form, and that I also regard today’s decision to charge Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in a federal court as a clear indication that trials in the US court system are the only legitimate way forward, and that setting up a two-tier system — of federal courts on the one hand, and Military Commissions on the other — appears to be nothing but a recipe for disaster.

Moving on, Obama dealt with the question of 21 prisoners whose release has already been ordered by the lower courts (following the Supreme Court’s ruling last June, in Boumediene v. Bush, that the prisoners have habeas corpus rights), by rather over-egging the point that “this has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to close Guantánamo,” that “[t]wenty of these findings took place before I came into office,” and, as an almost apologetic footnote, which betrays, I think, his preference for his own inter-departmental review of the Guantánamo cases over those made by the courts, stating, “The United States is a nation of laws, and we must abide by these rulings.”

After dropping, in passing, the news that the review team has now approved 50 prisoners for transfer to other countries (a few weeks ago, it was just 30), Obama moved on to a topic that is at least as worrying to lawyers, civil libertarians and those concerned with constitutional issues as the proposal to revive the Commissions: those prisoners who, as the President put it, “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.”

Although it was refreshing to hear Obama state, “I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face,” the examples he gave of prisoners who might be imprisoned indefinitely under a form of “preventive detention” — “people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans” — cannot be regarded as a separate category of prisoner from those, like Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who will face a trial in a US federal court.

Frankly, to even entertain the prospect that a third category of justice (beyond guilt and innocence) can be conjured out of thin air without fatally undermining the principles on which the United States was founded is to enter perilous territory indeed. Fundamentally, Guantánamo is a prison that was founded on the presumption that the Bush administration’s “new paradigm” justified “preventive detention” for life, and although Obama stepped up his assurances at this point in his speech — talking about “clear, defensible and lawful standards,” “fair procedures,” and “a thorough process of periodic review” — it is simply unacceptable that “preventive detention” (which he referred to, euphemistically, as “prolonged detention”) should be considered as an option, however much he tried to legitimize it by stating, “If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.”

To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter how much you dress it up. Look at the sentence, “Hold[ing] individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war,” replace “an act of war” with “a crime, any crime,” and you will, I hope, realize why the proposed policy is so terrifying and so thoroughly unacceptable. If a President came to power promising to “hold individuals to keep them from committing a crime, any crime,” I’d be very worried indeed.

I’ll leave it to others to analyze the rest of the President’s speech, which dealt with broader questions of national security — including the “State Secrets” doctrine, the release of the torture memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, and the decision not to release photos of abuse in US prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq — not because I have no interest in these issues, but because I don’t want to distract attention from the two particular responses to the “mess” inherited from the Bush administration that I find deeply troubling: the decision to revive the Military Commissions, and the decision to push for a form of “preventive detention.”

I’m dismayed by the first, because, as I made clear, I think it represents an unnecessary and unjustifiable two-tier system, but I’m almost speechless with despair about the second, and would urge anyone who believes in the fundamental right of human beings, in countries that purport to wear the cloak of civilization with pride, to live as free men and women unless arrested, charged, tried and convicted of a crime, to resist the notion that a form of “preventive detention” is anything other than the most fundamental betrayal of our core values.

Andy Worthington is the author of 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, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post and CounterPunch. Also cross-posted on Foreign Policy Journal and Common Dreams.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Four more charged, including Binyam Mohamed (June 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials (June 2009).

55 Responses

  1. Frances Madeson says...

    Andy,
    Sometimes floating ideas gets us to think things through in a new way. Preventive detention vis a vis domestic violence for instance. There are whole killing fields filled with the corpses of women. Often their abusive spouses, partners, or boyfriends had demonstrated past cruelty, had voiced hateful threats about future abuse, and still law enforcement could do nothing because a crime had not yet been committed. It’s a common occurrence in America. And our justice system, without tools to accommodate this commonplace, has normalized what is really irrational. Where’s the common sense there? The women knew the men were going to try and kill them; in many cases they were offered a flimsy piece of paper called an Order of Protection that miserably failed to protect.

    What if we could devise a new system that would remove would-be perpetrators before they had the ability to act on their intentions? I could imagine a “time out” for grownups in a compassionate place where they would not be punished for a crime but counseled and shored up so that their pathological need to destroy a woman’s life would be healed.

    It saddens me no end to say that I can personally think of several fine and magnificent women who might be alive today. When I consider the concept in these terms my mind opens on the subject. I’m sorry; I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no; but the potentially lifesaving principle is potent food for thought.

  2. the talking dog says...

    What I have read of the President’s speech, I do remain pleased with his tone, but I fear the devil is in the details. His tone– that we cannot live forever in fear– is reason enough to wonder wtf is up with him talking about “preventive detention”. I am less inclined to automatically reject the commissions just because they are the commissions: they are problematic,to be sure, and the rules must be clear and fair, and they must afford meaningful due process… otherwise… I agree that the commissions cannot be used in anything remotely as the Bush Admin. drew them up.

    “Preventive detention,” however, prior to adjudication of guilt, for any purpose other than holding for trial (or other lawful detention, such as POWs properly treated or civil commitment of judicially determined insane people, for example) is, like torture, just wrong. Always, and in all circumstances, no matter what perveived good it might do.

    We’ll have to see what emerges as things are reduced to writing, and fight like hell that the values incorporated in the Declaration of independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights are upheld and represented in what we see from the Administration. We’ll hope for the best… and do our own damned best to make sure we get it.

  3. My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] “Preventive Detention” by Andy Worthington Posted on May 21, 2009 by dandelionsalad by Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 21 May [...]

  4. Frances Madeson says...

    I have two words for you, TD: Timothy McVeigh.

    Are you saying that if we’d had the ability to put that nutjob out of commission before he (and his accomplice) blew the federal building and daycare center to smithereens, you would have stood on your “just wrong” principle? Give me a break.

    Let’s figure it out. Our laws and our approaches to them are not static; they constantly evolve, as they must. I’d sure as hell trust Gladys Kessler to spearhead a thought process on this subject. Even if we end up rejecting preventive detention, we’d learn a lot about what we need (maybe more preventive detection?) and how we might get it. It’s a public safety, public health issue and worth looking into.

    The president was awesome. I doubt very much whether the press is going to let the issue of the additional Abu Grahib photos rest, however. They’ll want to get their hands on those for the American people who deserve to know what our men and women in uniform are doing in our name. Ironically, he recently charged the press with that very duty.

    And I couldn’t agree more that a criminal prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfield, Addington, et. al. would make great copy and sell newspapers at record rates. I dare say the revival of an invigorated and insanely profitable newspaper industry is not a good reason to pursue prosecutions, though I suppose there’s always been big money in justice. OJ case in point. Well here I am back at the issue of domestic violence. Domestic violence, domestic terrorism. Probably some Freudian connection there.

  5. the talking dog says...

    Jose Padilla? Saleh al-Marri? Fred Korematsu? These names mean NOTHING?

    Extra-judicial pre-adjudication detention (how’s that for qualifiers!) is just wrong. Always, 100% of the time. Arbitrary imprisonment of those not adjudicated guilty of something is a tool of tyrants, period. I’ll not accept the possibility of “benevolent despots:” they’re still despots.

    So… yup: such arbitrary detentions are, like torture, and genocide, WRONG. If you did something wrong, you should be arrested and charged with something… or, failing that, RELEASED. No matter how bad what we think YOU MIGHT DO is.

    There are human time-bombs out there, to be sure. But we won’t– and can’t– stop all of them. In the mean time, we have to decide whether we are a tyranny or not.
    Frankly, I am surprised to hear this kind of fear and hysteria on this; this is precisely the same nonsensical “logic” as “the ticking time bomb” scenario: ASSUME we know absolutely everything– we know about the plot, we know we have a participant in the plot, we know he knows every single detail of the plot where the bomb is, and we know that if we blow his kneecap off, he’ll tell us… Sorry. Wrong. Such fantasies have never worked out that way in anything other than fiction. Preemptive detention? Same thing. Now we can anticipate the future? Why stop with McVeigh (who, btw, prior to the OK City bombing, could likely have been CHARGED AND TRIED FOR CONSPIRACY, so we still wouldn’t need “preventive detention”)? How about Mohammad Atta… or Adolf Hitler? Reality is far more troubling and unnerving: bad things might happen to people who don’t deserve it. Hell, that’s the human condition.

    We just can’t stop bad things ahead of time; trying to do the impossible via the tools of tyranny is, to understate it as best I can, a really bad idea. And worse– this is the same kind of fear and fearmongering that got the Bush Admin. releected in 2004, and got most people to acquiesce in its egregious abuses.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Bravo, TD.
    Readers unfamiliar with the Bush administration’s claims that it could imprison Americans without charge or trial — in other words, using a form of “preventive detention” — might want to read the following articles about Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2007/09/04/jose-padilla-more-sinned-against-than-sinning/
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/01/22/why-jose-padillas-17-year-prison-sentence-should-shock-and-disgust-all-americans/
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/05/01/dictatorial-powers-unchallenged-as-us-enemy-combatant-pleads-guilty/

  7. Lavender says...

    Andy,

    I just want to say that I couldn’t agree with you more. So many in our society mentally wall off “Islamic terrorists” and grant extreme treatment of them, which normally we would not condone, without cognizing the larger issues involved. How many people could be thrown in jail forever because they “might” commit a crime?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Lavender.
    I must admit that I’m having some rather more difficult conversations with supporters of the policy over on the Huffington Post just now, and your appraisal is a breath of fresh air, much as the Talking Dog’s rallying cry defines how one might approach the topic if cornered by a pro-torture/pro-”preventive detention” advocate in a bar: “[A]rbitrary detentions are, like torture, and genocide, WRONG. If you did something wrong, you should be arrested and charged with something… or, failing that, RELEASED. No matter how bad what we think YOU MIGHT DO is.”

    The article’s on the Huffington Post here, btw, if anyone feels like chipping in:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andy-worthington/my-message-to-obama-great_b_206501.html

  9. Brian Whalley says...

    ‘… Obama defended the absolute prohibition on the use of torture — although he didn’t, of course, mention some reservations about loopholes in this policy that I explored here …’

    if there are loopholes in his prohibition of torture then by definition it aint absolute.

    Obama is quoted thus: ‘ I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation’.
    the ‘effectiveness’ of torture (whatever that might be) is utterly irrelevant; torture is banned under the UN Convention without reservation (‘no circumstances whatsoever’) coz torture is wrong, period. one’s moral compass should be compelling enough (but not for US govt employees as Obama thinks they need to be told it is or is not legal/wrong).

    also, Obama’s so-called ban on torture that he issued back in February was almost, word for word, the same as a ban passed by Congress a couple of years ago. I don’t have the words at hand but it’s very carefully circumscribed: it only applies to formal, official officers of the US govt acting in a formal, official capacity and only if they are actually torturing. this is the status quo ante. research, training, supervision (even the chamber), rendition, et al are not covered, i.e. ‘allowed’.

    torture is banned regardless coz it is utterly morally depraved coz it by definition to destroy the victims’ humanity;
    there aint no middle; there aint no debate; there aint no quibbling: one either supports torture (and thereby proclaims one’s morally depravity and corrupt humanity) or one bans it in toto.

  10. the talking dog says...

    Greenwald has a very, very nice take on this issue here: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/05/22/preventive_detention/index.html

    I recommend it to everyone.

  11. Connie L. Nash says...

    Ari Shapiro on NPR.org is going to be interesting to watch once more – now that he’s again covering justice issues. Kudos for his report Friday!

    also this comment under his report is by far one of the better ones I’ve seen recently after some comments which are flippant at best…

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104466660#comment

    I think we have to take a hard look at whether these guys would be so ready to return to terrorist activities if we hadn’t detained them under abusive conditions. Are we making terrorists? If we made them, don’t we have some responsibility to find a solution other than indefinite detention? Release may put us somewhat at risk, but maybe we have to have the courage to work through that, not just continue detentions that violate our own policies. Alan, you say lots of other countries detain people for indefinite periods without trial or charges. Those countries treat their own citizens that way. If American citizen countenance this kind of thing for non-citizens, how long will it be before some administration decides to try it on American citizens. If the public has become callused because they accept this standard for non-citizens… Well what if by some ill star you are one mistakenly suspected?

    commenter at npr.org friday under Ari Shapiro’s story…
    =========
    Also, I highly recommend the items by Khurram – a Pakistan historian, scholar and much more for his uniquely wise blogs on global peace & justice at the Republic of Rumi and About Afia. What could be a better way we might globally work together than to work with such enlightened and inspired Pakistanis concerned with the rule of law, education of the illiterate/semi-literate towards peace, ending the use of drones, international human rights & seeking a just trial for Aafia Siddiqui and nore?

    Wow, I see that Andy is pulling in over 98 comments under his latest article on Huff Post!

  12. t.m. says...

    Although it was refreshing to hear Obama state, “I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face,” the examples he gave of prisoners who might be imprisoned indefinitely under a form of “preventive detention”

    Refreshing, I don’t know… I should think that the toughest issue a leader should face in such a situation would be to face the many people that his country held without grounds for years. Not to complain how inconvenient they are.

    this article is leery about the speech as a whole, too
    http://news.antiwar.com/2009/05/22/will-gitmo-closure-ever-happen/
    “The focus seems to be on scare-mongering about the potential release of these people, with President Obama sounding almost apologetic when admitting there was nothing he could do about the handful of detainees who have actually managed to fight through the labyrinthine system and secure a court-ordered release.”

    I’m dismayed by the first, because, as I made clear, I think it represents an unnecessary and unjustifiable two-tier system, but I’m almost speechless with despair about the second

    I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how you must feel, let alone the remaining prisoners. Thank you for all your work.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Brian,
    Great comments. Thanks for dropping by, and you are, of course, absolutely correct to state that there are no excuses whatsoever for the use of torture.

    Article 2.2 of the UN Convention Against Torture:
    “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
    http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html

    It could hardly be clearer.

    You’re right, also, about the repeated refusals to insist that the torture ban applies to ALL US personnel, and I highlighted some of these issues here:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/05/07/obamas-first-100-days-mixed-messages-on-torture/

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi t.m.,
    Thanks for the support, and thanks also for highlighting the distortions in Obama’s speech. I was particularly impressed by your comment, “I should think that the toughest issue a leader should face in such a situation would be to face the many people that his country held without grounds for years. Not to complain how inconvenient they are.”

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    After this article was published on CounterPunch, I received the following message from someone I’m always glad to hear from:

    Mr. Worthington,
    Sir, thank you for your outstanding article.
    Unfortunately, we are now seeing that our new “decider guy”, Mr. Oh-bomb-them, is not all that different from the last “decider guy”, W. Shrub. Keep the Military Commissions? Continue “rendition”? Not release the latest “torture photos”?
    What sort of “change” is that? My opinion, not very damn much of a change at all.
    No sir, from the point of view of this old former Marine/Vietnam vet, the “new” guy is not all that different from the “old” guy. As the Who sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Yep, they had it right back in the late 60′s and it is still, most unfortunately, correct today in America.
    Thank you for your time reading this email.
    semper fi,
    charlie ehlen
    Glenmora, LA
    http://bear47.blogspot.com

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    And this was my reply to Charlie:

    Hi Charlie,
    How nice to hear from you again.

    Thanks for the comments. I think we have more room for pressure than we did with Cheney in the White House, but cannot deny that it’s bitterly disappointing to discover that the new boss is listening to far too much foolish advice.
    Best,
    Andy

    With hindsight, that was a bit mild. We had NO room for pressure with Cheney, and the new boss is not just listening to foolish advice; he’s also listening to deranged advice from some people who should know better!

    Don’t know what came over me … too much sunshine at the weekend, perhaps …

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    I also received the following urgent message from Lee Roskin:

    Obama is spinning out of control. I really don’t know what the cause is or why he is doing it but his current project for “Preventative Detention” is frightening in the extreme. I’m not saying that to be dramatic or for effect. This program is the latest of many of his audacious plans that will imprison whoever “he” or “they” think, consider undesirable. This is not an exaggeration. This affects US citizens as well as anyone, anywhere. I don’t think it is necessary to explain the terrifying implications and reality of the Obama Plan for Preventative Detention but I wish to encourage you to write about it. Even more terrifying is the Congressional and public approval of this plan — this is totalitarianism with a global reach. It is truly scary to see this unfold before our eyes with the crowd cheering him on. Is this mass hysteria created by a popular leader? — the insight into the experiences of Nazism don’t seem to be productive here even if accurate. New “legal framework” — what happened to the “old legal framework” that we used to call “law” and there is that quaint document The Constitution. Write it up. Do something — this may be our last chance.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply, in which I also thanked him for his comments and asked for permission to reproduce them here:

    Hi Lee,
    I’m doing my best to write about it, and will continue to do so. I too find any form of “preventive detention” to be a terrifying proposal.
    Best,
    Andy

    And that is, of course, a promise!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    And this was Lee’s reply:

    Please do. As a related aside: do you remember when the Democrats said they wanted to end the Iraq War a few years ago but were unable to do so. If I remember correctly, you are British and the American writers (like on CP) don’t seem to be interested in this story. I think anyone focusing on Conspiracy Theory is distracting — not that there couldn’t be one — I think we can just look at the facts (as we know them).

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    Thanks, Lee. I think the fundamental problem with the Democrats — as demonstrated last week when they caved in to Republican pressure on Guantánamo — is their repeated tendency to spinelessness when challenged on “national security” issues. It also conveniently disguises an even more disturbing question: which of them are actually as stupidly gung-ho about counter-productive and illegal wars, the counter-productive and illegal treatment of prisoners etc. as their Republican counterparts?

    What I do know is that both parties failed miserably to quell any facet of the Bush administration’s unconstitutional insurrection over the last eight years.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    I also received the following comment:

    Hello!

    Read your article on Counterpunch.

    Forgive me for I am naïve;
    Reading your article I am struck by something rather astonishing.
    Isn’t it surprising there was so little attempt to prove these people’s innocence from the get go?

    I’ve never read any argument on the US army’s side saying “well we checked the books and this guy never set foot in that university”

    So it’s clear they did not want to know if these prisoners were guilty or not — and they specifically refused to search, by fear of discovering they were in fact innocent.

    There is an interesting documentary called “un coupable idéal” where this young black kid is arrested for murder. During the court proceedings the police is crushed by the judge (lambasted is a better word) because they didn’t even bother to interview the parents and confirm what this kid was saying for his defense. They only interviewed those who could prove his culpability! This is exactly the same situation, except in this case you have people who are arabic, the police is replaced by the army and the judge … well let’s just say we don’t know how much he/she believes in this pseudo war on terror.
    http://french.imdb.com/title/tt0307197/combined

    And then there’s something else that really peeves me as of late;
    According to Dick Cheney’s friends, a large percentage of released inmates went to crime or disappeared.
    It has a “we knew it all along” sort of arrogant feel to it.
    All wrapped up in what looks like a sound argument we find another brew of pure media lard / krud
    I don’t know but being held for 7 years for a crime I didn’t commit would kinda … drive me mad?
    And try getting a job if an employer knows you’ve been at Gitmo?
    And don’t imagine for a second these people are receiving free psychological counseling …
    So again we send these people up the creek without a paddle and when the water gets too hot, we basically trash whatever dignity they have left.

    Real classy.

    But what do you expect — they are led by mister class himself … Dick Cheney

    Have a nice day and enjoyed reading you!

    Louis Horvath
    P.S.: I was thinking about a slogan to mock Obama … “Lies, lies we can believe in”

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply to Louis, in which I also asked if he would mind if I posted his comments here:

    Hi Louis,
    Thanks for the comments. You’ve captured what’s going on very well — essentially, that anyone who came into US custody, by whatever means, was regarded as guilty, and no adequate attempt was made to screen them to ascertain if this was in fact the case.
    And also that Dick Cheney lies. All the time. The claims of the numbers of prisoners who “returned to the battlefield” have always been disputed. There’s a good article here:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shayana-kadidal/the-myth-of-return-to-the_b_206603.html

    You’re also right that seven years’ false imprisonment could make people very angry, although what I find astonishing is how many released prisoners — both those I’ve met, and many I’ve heard about — relied on their faith — and each other — to get them through their ordeal, and are not seeking revenge.
    Best,
    Andy

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    And Louis’ reply:

    Would be thrilled … post away.

    By the way thank you for responding — people like Cheney are real hope busters; they make the world look dim and uni-dimensional.
    By responding we all fight to make the world a forum full of diversity — what it should be and nothing less.

    Oh and interesting point about faith.
    We all rely on it one way or another when we’re in dire straights (‘been waiting for an excuse to use that expression.
    I know my faith takes root in the certitude that deep down inside, I am a unique, somewhat enlightened individual.
    Not a religious type of enlightment but a very personal one.
    I call it an inner voice but I guess it takes whatever form you give it.
    The rest is just too fuzzy to explain (and why even try?)

    I also very much enjoy your comment about not seeking revenge.
    This whole war on terror assumes terrorism starts with the poor, jealous people of the world.
    If it really did, the world would have blown up a long time ago.
    Just look at the Palestinians. They endure and endure and endure. Their tormentors have lost it.
    So you expect Palestinians to go bonkers, to react violently, but they keep their composure.
    And they are far from being jealous. They just want to be left alone.

    In fact I am amazed and quite touched by oppressed people around the world who could lash out and seek revenge … but don’t.
    I mean wow. I feel such anger and desperation seeing the situation they are in. But these people choose to be better fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters instead! They choose the human way, which is, I am sure you will agree (at least I hope) … a great sense of hope for this planet.

    They also share when the times are tough. A complete contradiction in our modern economic system.
    One might think this is the reason we want them out of the way …
    Out with the people who know the real value of friendship and community and in with those who’d take the cash any time and shut up.

    Mind you I’m just ranting and raving here.

    Will visit your site and read.

    Louis

    P.S.: Forgive my english as I am struggling to get ideas and structure together in an elegant manner — always much harder than it seems. And must say I am much better at french poetry.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s another comment from Lee Roskin:

    I would say that your analysis is common but incorrect and the reality demonstrates it. The Democrats are in on the game but play it slightly differently. The Brits are in on the game as well as NATO (which is most of EU) since they are involved in Afghanistan and other “adventures”. There is no complaint concerning the mid-East wars from China, nor India, nor Japan, nor Russia and I don’t see anything coming out of the UN. Islam is universally despised outside their home territory. What the goal of this game is one can only surmise but it does not appear to be “global peace and love.” That there is some opposition to US murderous aggression seems demonstrably false.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    You may be right, Lee, and I may be inferring nuances where there aren’t any. However, putting aside for a moment my vigorous complaints about Obama’s proposed techniques for dealing with some of the Guantánamo prisoners, it’s clear to me that he knows he has to close Guantánamo — and is backed up by senior figures in the military, if not by most politicians — because the prison’s existence has inflamed anti-US tensions, if nothing else.

    So perhaps what we’re seeing are proposals for different strategies to tweak the Bush administration’s worldview, rather than any attempt to fundamentally challenge it. From my point of view I’ll have more opportunity to understand when I see how, over the next few years, Obama deals with Iraq and Afghanistan.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    I also received the following message:

    Mr. Worthington,

    I would argue that Obama’s dress-up of this “prolonged detention” is worse than Bush-Cheney. At least, we had an ad hoc system that was poorly executed and discredited with Bush-Cheney. Obama promises to plant this concept into American law with the help of the legal community and the other two branches of government. How long before this kind of third-way “justice” is expanded to deal with others accused of heinous crimes because “we can’t risk letting them go” in
    case they repeat what they have not been proved to have done, or because they are thought to have threatened to do something?

    Scott Frasier

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    My thoughts exactly, Scott. Thanks for the message.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s another comment from Lee Roskin:

    One distraction and one very serious issue

    The distraction is the question of whether Obama will close Guantánamo or not. What major importance is it if he does — inflame anti-US sentiment — big deal — I think there is plenty of opportunity for that like the possibility and reality of getting one’s family reduced to fragments and body fluids by US forces. It also appears that Obama will not close it — it is a miserable charade. These prisoners are held at military installations beyond the reach of law, Obama is “commander-in-chief” as well as being head of the executive branch of government; he can do what he wants with them — money is not an issue; there is plenty of that around. The whole thing is a terrible charade just as the Democrats charade about ending “the war” a few years back — Harry Reid said he would never give up trying to end “the war”, never! — now there is more war and spending is approved with 3 dissenters in Senate.

    So that is the distraction. A serious issue, getting back to our original discussion, is can “they” put me and you in Guantánamo — it gets personal and thus terrifying, really. With this Preventative Detention (Indefinite Detention) you and I are vulnerable. The whole concept is outside “the law” and illegal but now given legitimacy by this ex-constitutional lawyer, Congress, the media, and the general public. It is only somewhat far-fetched to assume that you and I could be the victim of this Preventative Detention — just writing this email could and would be considered subversive and “giving aid to the enemy” or maybe “someone” didn’t like our attitude (unpatriotic, critical, anti-US), then we are targets. This is unlikely to occur because we are insignificant but you may be more at risk than me because you have published inflammatory articles on the internet. Being in the UK won’t protect you. There are places worse than Guantánamo — you might just disappear — no charges, no lawyer — perhaps tortured. A bit far-fetched but events are moving in that direction if they have not arrived there already. That’s the terrifying — it could be you in Guantánamo or worse.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    Well, thanks, Lee, you’ve really made my evening!
    Seriously, though, I think the latter scenario is rather far-fetched, but would always draw an analogy with Pastor Niemoller’s famous poem about the Nazis:

    They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
    Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.

    At present, “preventive detention” is targeted at Muslims, but no one knows who might be next …

    Although the bottom line, of course, is that “preventive detention” is simply unacceptable, full stop.

  30. Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

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  31. Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

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  32. April says...

    Pretty cool post. I just came across your site and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts. In any case
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  33. Guantánamo: Charge Or Release Prisoners, Say No To Indefinite Detention by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

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  34. African Embassy Bombing Suspect To Face Trial In September 2010 by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

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  36. Predictable Chaos As Guantánamo Trials Resume by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

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  52. US Mid-Term Elections: The Death of Hope and Change | War On You: Breaking Alternative News says...

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    [...] the Times article also explained, in May 2009, in a major speech about national security at the National Archives, President Obama “mentioned Guantánamo 28 times, repeating his campaign [...]

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