Early last Thursday morning, I was delighted to prop up my wilting eyelids to talk to Brad Friedman (of The Brad Blog, which has been doing remarkable work exposing election fraud over the last few years) about Guantánamo for a guest-hosted Mike Malloy Show that began at 2.15 am my time. The interview — shorn of the distressingly long ad breaks in the live show — is available here (or here, by scrolling down the page), and begins about eleven and a half minutes in, after Brad’s discussion of the breaking ruling convicting former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of money laundering.
It’s about a year since Brad and I last talked, and, on Guantánamo, the news has been far from encouraging, to put it mildly. To recap on the story of how a bold start by President Obama has turned into political paralysis, Brad focused on my explanation of the two Americas presided over by President Obama since he took office in January 2009, as I discussed in my recent article, “On Guantánamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom,” in which I analyzed how a reforming agenda that began with bold executive orders promising the closure of Guantánamo and the upholding of the absolute ban on the use of torture, and was followed by the release of the notorious “torture memos” issued by the Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, essentially came to an end in May 2009, when the President delivered a major speech on national security in which he revived Dick Cheney’s much-reviled Military Commissions instead of sticking with federal court trials, and declared that some of the prisoners at Guantánamo would continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
The exact terms of this capitulation have never been spelled out clearly, but they ended up with Obama sacrificing White House Counsel Greg Craig, who had been the driving force behind the executive orders, and had vigorously defended the release of the torture memos, ruling out an admirable plan, for which Craig had already secured the support of Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, to bring a handful of cleared Guantánamo prisoners to live in the US.
These men were the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had won their habeas corpus petition in October 2008, but were stuck in Guantánamo because they could not be returned home to face torture at the hands of the Chinese government, although no other country had been found that would take them.
While this made the task of finding third countries for cleared prisoners all the more difficult — and, crucially, prevented the American people from realizing, first-hand, how terrible mistakes had been made rounding up the prisoners who ended up at Guantánamo — it also signaled the beginning of a full-scale retreat on Obama’s commitment to close the prison, which now, of course, has led to a situation in which, although the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by Obama last year, recommended that 34 of the remaining 174 prisoners should face trials, that 48 others should be held indefinitely, and the rest should be released, the President now appears unwilling to pursue any more trials, either in federal court on in Military Commissions, or to release any more cleared prisoners, and has settled into an alarming rut in which holding all the remaining prisoners indefinitely — on the basis of a shoddy law passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks — is preferable to doing anything that might require principles, courage or a fundamental respect for the law.
Brad and I also spoke about the false recidivism claims touted regularly by the Pentagon, and the manufactured hysteria regarding the conviction, in federal court, of former Guantánamo prisoner, and former CIA “ghost prisoner” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, which I discussed in another recent article, “The Rule of Law in the US Hangs on Obama’s Response to the Ghailani Trial.”
We also spoke briefly about the significance of George W. Bush’s admission, in his recently published memoir, that he authorized waterboarding, as is therefore a war criminal, and the advice — from London Mayor Boris Johnson, taking a principled step into the world of anti-torture lawyers and activists — that as a result he should think carefully before traveling to Europe to promote his book.
Despite the late hour, it was a pleasure to talk to Brad, as ever. I hope you have time to listen to the show, and I look forward to speaking to Brad again before another year elapses.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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