Obama Bungles Bagram

By
Monday, April 13, 2009 at 8:50 am

The Obama administration could have just let this one go.

U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates’ April 2 ruling that three detainees — two from Yemen, one from Tunisia, all held by the U.S. military at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan without charge for more than six years — have a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts was crafted narrowly on purpose. The Obama administration did not have to appeal it and open itself up to the charge that it was making the same arguments that the Bush administration did — that prisoners in the war on terror can be held indefinitely with no constitutional rights whatsoever.

Yet on Friday, the Obama Justice Department did just that, filing documents with the federal court indicating that it plans to appeal the judge’s ruling, because allowing these three men to challenge their detention would “impose serious practical burdens on, and potential harm to, the Government and its efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan.”

Bagram is “in a theater of war where the Nation’s troops are in harm’s way,” wrote Justice Department lawyers, and responding to a possible deluge of future petitions from prisoners at Bagram “would divert the military’s attention and resources at a critical time for operations in Afghanistan, potentially requiring accommodation and protection of counsel and onerous discovery.” This would cause “significant and irreparable burdens” that would risk “injury to the public interest.”

In other words, it would be really inconvenient right now for the U.S. military to have to defend holding prisoners for years without charge or trial, and it has more important things to do, like fight a war on terror.

Doesn’t that sound eerily familiar? Isn’t that the same argument the Bush administration used when it said that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay didn’t have habeas rights? And wasn’t it President Obama who said that he rejects “a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus?” So where did that guy go?

Glenn Greenwald at Salon provides some choice Obama quotes on this that illuminate what sure looks like some kind of ugly hypocrisy going on here.

Then again, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told The Washington Post Friday that the Obama administration might still change its mind on Bagram, depending on the outcome of its comprehensive review of detainee policy, to be completed in July.

“While that review is pending, we concluded that it was necessary to appeal this ruling,” Boyd said. So maybe Obama is being cautious rather than unprincipled.

Obama may have all sorts of good, logical reasons why he doesn’t want to grant all 600 prisoners at Bagram habeas corpus rights immediately, particularly since those numbers are likely to rise under his new strategy for Afghanistan. But that’s not what Bates’ ruling was about. It applied only to three men captured outside of Afghanistan and brought to Bagram. The government has refused to say publicly how many more prisoners at Bagram are in the same situation.  But it’s  difficult, as Bates found, to distinguish the situation of these prisoners from those who’ve been held for years at Guantanamo Bay.

Obama said repeatedly and unequivocally as a as a senator and as a presidential candidate that he thought Gitmo prisoners deserved the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court, because the procedures offered to them at Guantanamo were woefully inadequate.

In his ruling, Bates, a conservative Bush appointee, concluded that the procedures at Bagram were significantly worse — specifically, “less sophisticated and more error-prone.”

Why defend those procedures now? It may simply be that Obama has not been paying attention to Bagram. After all, the president is dealing with a failing economy, multi-trillion dollar budgets and, in recent days, a bizarre stand-off with Somali pirates. But ignoring Bagram is already coming back to bite him. We’ve called Bagram “Obama’s Gitmo,” and today the New York Times editorial board is calling it “The Next Guantanamo.” That’s hardly what Obama needs right now.

Friday’s filing seems to have the mark of Eric Holder, his attorney general, who has years’ worth of experience taking some unseemly positions on behalf of major corporations.

But defending the United States of America isn’t the same as defending Chiquita, and Americans elected Obama in part because he promised that in his administration, principles wouldn’t be so easily trumped by expediency.

This post has been updated to note today’s New York Times editorial.

Comments

57 Comments

knowbuddhau
Comment posted April 13, 2009 @ 7:29 am

You're right: looks like ugly hypocrisy. And the fix is in the myths with which we are being jacked to hell and back and getting stuck with the bill both ways.

Myths aren't mere lies; they are metaphors, vessels for going from ignorance to understanding, into some of which we are far more easily lured than others: like kittens into burlap sacks. Or Jews and Roma into cattle cars en route to Dachau. Or Americans brain-washed into believing that being brutal is somehow the only way to be safe.

From Scott Horton's blog, No Comment, yesterday (4/12/2009):
http://harpers.org/archive/2009/04/hbc-90004767
>>Mark Danner, a distinguished war correspondent turned professor at the University of California, is responsible for publishing the report and he offers an extremely persuasive essay about it in the New York Review of Books. Danner starts by outlining how America has dodged this question for so long. It starts with the Bush Administration’s impressive myth-making machine that has been busily at work for years:

>>>>Cheney’s story is made not of facts but of the myths that replace them when facts remain secret: myths that are fueled by allusions to a dark world of secrets that cannot be revealed. At its heart is the recasting of President George W. Bush, under whose administration more Americans died in terrorist attacks than under all others combined, as the leader who “kept us safe,” and who was able to do so only by recognizing that the U.S. had to engage in “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business.” To keep the country safe “the gloves had to come off.” What precisely were those “gloves” that had to be removed? Laws that forbid torture, that outlaw wiretapping and surveillance without permission of the courts, that limit the president’s power to order secret operations and to wage war exactly as he sees fit.<<<<

>>Laws, criminal statutes, long-standing rules of military conduct—they were the _obstacles_ to be overcome. That was to be the handiwork of a new breed of lawyers, men like Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, William J. Haynes II, Douglas J. Feith, and David Addington (now all under criminal investigation in Spain for their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens), who understood perfectly how to remove the rules that Americans fought innumerable wars to establish. With the legal restraints removed, in came techniques long condemned by the United States that belonged to the core repertoire of our enemies, like the Soviet GPU:

>>>>They consisted usually of tying the victim in a strait-jacket to an iron bunk. The strait-jacket was his only clothing; he had no blanket, no food and was unable to go to the lavatory. With a gag in his mouth and a stopper in his rectum he would be given periodic beatings with rubber poles.<<<<

>>With the Red Cross report in hand and a growing mound of documents, we now know a great deal about the Bush Administration’s torture system. We know enough to clearly establish that claims offered by Bush himself (“we do not torture”), by Cheney and others were consistently false. But we also know that a great wealth of further detail remains which has so far escaped disclosure.

[...]

>>At present, the public calls for an investigation are matched by two dissonant responses. One urges us to “move on” and forget about what happened, taking solace in President Obama’s commitment that the experience with torture is a closed chapter. The other, the loud and fact-free rhetoric of Dick Cheney, insists that “torture works” and that the move away from it will end in disaster—charges that echo in the language of many Republican leaders and in the dealings of the G.O.P.’s master tactician, Karl Rove. This all points to the inescapability of a full, formal and public inquiry that grapples with the contentions of the torture lobby and their increasingly absurd claims to exclusive classified data.<<


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STEFREE
Comment posted April 16, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

For fourteen years iIwas marries to a Jewish mafia racketeer who loved me dearly until I found out about and protested his involving me in the tax liability aspect….in no time at all, he had me visitng shrinks for my 'delusions' and the upshot was that I was stripped of every civil right in a plenary guardinaship with NO BASIS WHATSOEVER (as an examining Dr. said fifteen years later – 'The only thing you had wrong with you was a husband with an insurance card') I SPENT 15 YEARS ON AND OFF BEING HELD IN MENTAL HOSPITALS – THE COUNTY I LIVE IN WA SO RIFE WITH KIND OF ABUSE THAT THE STATE FINALLY ' INVESTIGATED', BUT THE CORRUPTION WAS SO FLAGRANT THAT NO CHARGES WERE EVER BROUGHT – THERE ARE NO CIVIL RIGHTS IN AMERICA ANY MORE- I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT 20 YEARS AGO…FREEDOM IS A FACADE, A THIN VENEER SO THE AVERAGE JOE MAINTAINS THE ILLUSION THAT HE STILL LIVES IN THE LAND OF THE FREE ADN THE HOME OF THE BRAVE…IT AINT FREE AND OBAMAS STAFF HAVE TOLD WE'RE COWARDS…


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Pingback posted April 18, 2009 @ 7:44 am

[...] imprisonment of those designated “unlawful enemy combatants” by presidential decree, the suspension of habeas corpus, and even the practice of torture as a means of “enhanced [...]


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Pingback posted April 18, 2009 @ 10:47 am

[...] imprisonment of those designated “unlawful enemy combatants” by presidential decree, the suspension of habeas corpus, and even the practice of torture as a means of “enhanced [...]


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Pingback posted April 19, 2009 @ 1:54 am

[...] imprisonment of those designated “unlawful enemy combatants” by presidential decree, the suspension of habeas corpus, and even the practice of torture as a means of “enhanced [...]


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