We all know that the Congress is fundamentally responsible for keeping the former torture camp open, by preventing the executive branch from financing the transfer of any prisoners to elsewhere in the US. We also know that some terrorists were captured but with no real proof; and that some have been transferred to other countries. Of those some have taken up arms; some have simply melted back into society.
But we also know that 86 human beings there have not been found guilty of anything and are eligible for transfer – but must remain in prison limbo for the rest of their lives. We also know that there have been prisoner deaths at Gitmo that are extremely hard to explain without a working assumption that they were accidentally tortured to death by suffocation. Now we discover that lawyers for Gitmo prisoners going before the military commissions are subject to surveillance by the government, through secret microphones in cells and extremely sensitive video recording equipment. The farce of the commissions extends to outright violation of the most basic attorney-client privilege.
Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research has a new report: “Spying on Lawyers at GTMO? Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions and the Destruction of the Attorney-Client Relationship.” It’s a comprehensive exploration of the legal crapshoot. Take a look. Money quote:
We now know that the government has installed surveillance devices with the capacity to listen even to whispers between attorneys and clients, and to read the attorneys’ own notes.• Of all the facilities in Guantanamo Bay for attorneys to meet with their clients, the military chose Camp Echo, the former CIA interrogation facility• Listening devices in the attorney- client meeting rooms are disguised as smoke detectors.• The listening devices are so hypersensitive that they can detect even whispers between attorneys and their clients.• Cameras in the attorney-client meeting rooms are so powerful that they can read attorneys’ handwritten notes and other confidential documents.• The camera models can be operated secretly from a location outside of the room.None of the capacities of the eavesdropping equipment would be necessary for CIA interrogations. Instead, the equipment has been implemented in a practice of multi-layered deception of defense attorneys.
Under those conditions, how can there be even a semblance of a fair trial? And if you were subjected to such a farce, and knew that you were being prevented from ever leaving a prison where you were wrongfully detained in the first place. wouldn’t you go on hunger strike? You’ve been captured by military forces with no charges, taken to a torture camp, hooded and shackled, beaten and tortured, and now – even when found innocent – kept in the same black hole of indefinite detention. Yes, I’d go on hunger strike.
Sure, Obama appended a signing statement, but the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act bars any transfer of prisoners out of Gitmo and president Obama signed it. His administration has defended the US government’s previous positions with respect to the rights of the detainees; and the military commissions are a legal farce of a kind you only find in totalitarian systems of government. And Obama is emphatically not a bystander in this.
Obama’s task force in early 2010 decreed that “48 detainees were determined to be too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution” and will thus “remain in detention”: i.e. indefinitely imprisoned with no charges. Given these facts, one cannot denounce the disgrace of Guantánamo’s indefinite detention system while pretending that Obama sought to end it, at least not cogently or honestly … In January, 2010, Obama – not Congress, but Obama – announced a moratorium on the release of any Yemeni detainees, even ones cleared for release.
The Yemeni government will take them – and is, in fact, demanding them. But Obama himself has decided he cannot risk letting innocent prisoners go to a country dealing with an Islamist insurgency itself. Many of the hunger strikers are precisely these Yemenis, and, as Greenwald notes, Obama as commander-in-chief has the power to grant a ‘national security waiver’ for the prisoners. He should use it. Is there a danger that these prisoners might turn to Jihad as a form of revenge for a decade of illegal imprisonment? Yes, there is. Is there a danger whenever an actual criminal is released from jail? Yes, there is. But the indefinite imprisonment of individuals cleared of all crimes is simply a violation of basic human rights. It cannot – must not – stand in America.
Obama did not create Gitmo and he wanted to close it. But he cannot have it every which way. By sustaining the prison and former torture camp, by keeping human beings locked up for ever for no reason but his own political fears of looking weak on terror, he is now fully responsible for the deaths that may ensue or the barbaric force-feeding that now appears to be routine. These men are not guilty. For America to imprison them indefinitely in that knowledge and not transfer them to their country of origin is simply a betrayal of core values. That the Obama administration is also spying and videoing confidential attorney-client conversations is also an outrage. Where is the Chicago Law professor when you need him?
We didn’t elect and re-elect Barack Obama to trash American values. We elected and re-elected him to restore them. As Glenn notes, this is not about his or anyone else’s legacy. It’s about the core question of whether in a free society, the government has a right to imprison people without charge, deem them innocent and eligible for release and yet keep them in prison for the rest of their lives.
For those in that haunted torture camp, there really is a fierce urgency of now. Let them go.
(Photo: A detainee stands at an interior fence inside the U.S. military prison for ‘enemy combatants’ on October 27, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. By John Moore/Getty, after Pentagon review.)