Early Obama Initiative: the End of Guantanamo Bay
In July of 2005 I flew to Guantanamo Bay and spent four days on a Potemkin tour of one of the most disgraceful misadventures in U.S. history.
I saw bolts dug into the floor of interrogation chambers in Camp Five, from which detainees were restrained. I walked the blocks through the six-by-eight green-painted cells of Camps One and Two, and saw the small exercise courts where detainees of those camps enjoyed their daily hour out of those cages. I witnessed a non-judicial process called an Administrative Review Board where, with no true process, detainees contend annually that they’re not threats to the U.S., in which a tribunal of military officers state that they expect detainees to pay for the provision of witnesses in their (quasi) defense. And I did this all with a group of right-wing radio hosts who brayed about orange chicken and weren’t we a great nation for treating these terrorists so well.
Less than a week after his election, and more than two months before he takes office, President-elect Barack Obama is signaling that this monstrosity is coming to an end. The Associated Press, via Time:
President-elect Obama’s advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds, of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice.
There are, of course, problems here. The AP’s reporting suggests Obama is considering a “hybrid process” between the military commissions and the full process enjoyed by U.S. citizens. If there’s anything the military commissions process should have taught, it’s that reinventing the legal system doesn’t work, as demonstrated by the bevy of military lawyers who have resigned in protest of the commissions.
The concern, stripped of euphemism, is that the evidentiary basis for many trials of Guantanamo detainees — including, in many cases, torture — would never be admissible in any court worthy of the name. That’s the Bush administration’s legacy. But it can’t be the basis for cheapening our legal system.
So we’ll wait to see what proposal finally emerges. But consider not only that this is one of the first initiatives that Obama is pursuing — it’s one of the first that he’s *leaking, *as well. This is as clear a signal as can be sent that the Bush era isn’t just over, it will be actively rolled back. How far it actually gets rolled back — we’ll just have to wait and see.