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“A Morass Of Human Rights Abuses”: Gitmo Is A Stain On Our Reputation For Upholding Human Rights

In his first presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to close the infamous U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where torture has been practiced and due process flouted. The reviled facility is a stain on our reputation as a beacon for human rights and as a role model in a world where the innate dignity of the individual is still not universally accepted.

With his pledge to shut it down, Obama was merely building on the stated desire of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who knew the facility was a source of embarrassment for our allies and a recruiting tool for our enemies. Back then, Obama’s view was shared by his rival, GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who also pledged to close the prison.

But as president, Obama badly bungled the process, failing to make closing Guantanamo a priority and misjudging the inflammatory politics that are associated with the suspects who are held there. He was deserted not only by McCain, but also by Democrats who claimed — speciously — that bringing suspected terrorists into the continental United States was much too dangerous to consider.

In the final year of his presidency, Obama has returned to the incendiary politics of Guantanamo, promising again to shutter the prison. He has less chance of success now than he did when he began eight years ago. Since then, congressional Republicans have grown more rabid in their opposition (to everything), the GOP electorate has sunk into a miasma of xenophobia, and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State have risen up to haunt our nightmares. Congress has passed laws making it virtually impossible to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons in the United States.

Still, Obama is right to bring the facility to the top of the national agenda. He has little leverage but his bully pulpit, little authority but the moral force of this righteous crusade. That’s a start.

From the beginning, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has represented the worst instincts of American leaders. In 2002, placing the first of nearly 800 terror suspects eventually held there, the Bush administration argued they were not subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

While the U.S. Supreme Court later disagreed, forcing the Bush administration to reverse itself, that arrogant and shortsighted abrogation of international norms gave our enemies good reason to call us hypocrites. And that was just the beginning of an appalling slide into a morass of human rights abuses: Some prisoners were tortured; some were held for years without formal charges; many were not, as the Bush administration initially claimed, captured on the battlefield, but rather turned over by Pakistanis and Afghans in exchange for money. Those men may never have raised arms against the United States or its allies.

Even the Bush administration eventually yielded to pressure and released or transferred more than 500 detainees. Obama has continued to reduce the population; an estimated 91 detainees remain.

But the very existence of the facility — “Gitmo,” as it’s often called — remains a blight on our reputation, a pall over the shining city on a hill. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said last Tuesday. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of (the) rule of law.”

He clearly means to use the last year of his tenure to keep pressure on Congress to close it, probably by speeding up the exodus of detainees. (While a handful of former detainees have returned to the battlefield, the vast majority of them have not.) He believes he can persuade other countries to accept an additional 80 or so, leaving only a few hard-core cases, men who are deemed too dangerous to release.

However, the cost of keeping them at Guantanamo would be exorbitant, as much as $10 million per detainee per year, according to some estimates. For a Congress that claims to be fiscally prudent, it ought to make a lot more sense to bring those men to a maximum-security prison in the United States, where they’d have no chance of escape.

That would keep us safe without destroying our ideals.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, February 27, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Human Rights, Republicans, Torture | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Taking A Shit On The Constitution”: Senate Republicans Make Donald Trump Look Good

When a presidency is winding down we start to think there probably isn’t that much to fight over. Yet here are the Republicans acting like it’s 2009 all over again, and more. These moves on the Supreme Court situation and Guantanamo Bay aren’t just obstructionist. They are certifiably insane.

No hearing for the nominee? Not even a courtesy call? They’ve really gone ’round the bend. Look, there’s hypocrisy to go around on Court stuff. Reverse the situation, and a lot of people saying A now would be saying Not A. I get that. Although I don’t get what in the world that 1992 clip of Joe Biden that everybody’s showing and re-showing has to do with anything. He was speaking hypothetically. There was no nominee. The one time in Biden’s tenure as Judiciary Committee chairman that there was a flesh-and-blood nominee, Anthony Kennedy, the committee and the full Senate passed him through unanimously, and in an election year.

But since you brought up the old days, let’s talk Robert Bork. Bork was a crazy radical extremist. He saw no constitutional justification for the civil rights bill. He also thought states should be free to criminalize the purchase of contraception by married couples. Off the charts, that guy. But he was the president’s choice. The Democrats gave him a hearing.

Say what you want, conservatives, but I feel pretty confident that if the situation were precisely reversed, the Democrats would be going through the process. At the end of the day, a majority of them would presumably vote against a conservative, balance-tilting nominee in a presidential election year. So, you might say, it amounts to the same thing.

No. It doesn’t amount to the same thing. One approach is called respecting the Constitution. The other approach is called taking a shit on the Constitution.

I suppose I could be wrong about what my hypothetical Democrats would do. But I don’t think so. Why? Because the liberal-left base, while certainly ideological and often choleric, just isn’t the same thing as the right-wing base. The right-wing base, led by Limbaugh and all those blowhards, is the reason McConnell said what he said while Scalia’s body was still warm. The liberal groups would not have demanded of Democratic leaders that they just shut the process down.

And if I am wrong about the Democrats, I can 100 percent guarantee you this: I would have written a column calling their behavior shameful. Vote against the person in the end, I’d have written, but for Chrissakes, respect the constitutional process, you bunch of morons. And I think every other prominent liberal columnist I can think of would have done the same. I don’t recall these last few days seeing any of our conservative counterparts calling out the Republicans.

Obama and the Democrats better find a way to make them pay. Nominate an unimpeachably qualified Latino or African American, and let Latinos and/or black voters watch as the GOP stonewalls this person for months, and run 3,000,000 attack ads on ethnic radio stations. (This is the paragraph where conservatives on Twitter will say “There goes that hack Tomasky making everything racial again.” Right. Whereas the guy who wants a brown-shirt police force to go in and break up Latino families, no, he’s not making anything racial. And the party that’s passing law after law to see to it that voting is made as hard as it can be for black people, no, they’re not making anything racial either. Just me. I get it.)

It’s such scandalous behavior. But because it’s them, and it’s all anyone expects out of them, it’s not even scandalous anymore. Which brings us to the Gitmo situation. If anything this is even worse.

Let me ask you this, reader. Do you have the slightest idea where the nearest supermax prison is to your house? Of course you don’t. Oh, a few of you do—you live in a town where it’s a big employer, your cousin works there, like that. But I’d wager that 98 percent of Americans have no idea where the nearest supermax prison is. There appear to be around 50 (some are wholly supermax, some partly). I bet thousands of people drive past one every day without even knowing it.

And of the 2 percent who do know, do they have any idea who’s in there? How many murderers, rapists, drug kingpins, Bernie Madoffs? Of course they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that the prisoners inside these prisons have zero impact on their lives. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Mahmud Abuhalima, terrorists all, live in a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Do the good people of Florence ever see them? They don’t even see each other. They spend 23 hours a day alone in a cell the size of a typical upstairs-hallway bathroom. And almost nobody ever escapes from these places. You know how your chances of being killed by a terrorist as an American are one in 3.5 million? Well, the odds of you being killed by a terrorist who escaped from a supermax prison have to be considerably longer than even that. Anyone in Florence, Colorado and environs who sits around worrying that one of these guys is going to come pounding on their screen door is a paranoid lunatic or an idiot.

And that’s what the Republicans want us to be, a nation of paranoid lunatics and idiots, because paranoid lunacy and idiocy tend to benefit the Republican Party at the polls. So this is what we get stuck with. We keep open this facility (Gitmo) that’s notorious around the world—the Arab world and the entire world—that gives America a horrible reputation and whose very existence provides rhetorical fodder for our foes, so we don’t run the “risk” of putting terrorists inside facilities they’ll never get out of and where their movement the rest of their lives will be limited to maybe four rooms.

The Republicans won’t pay any political price for this, because the mere word terrorism turns most Americans into quivering little poltroons. But we as a country pay a price when an argument that is so galactically far removed from objective reality carries the day. And we pay a price when a constitutional norm is flouted and no one even cares because everyone has long since stopped expecting anything more. It’s not easy making Trump look good, but this week, Washington Republicans have pulled it off.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GITMO, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Still Love Gitmo”: Don’t Want To Admit They Were Wrong To Support The Cuban Prison In The First Place

The Republicans have a strange emotional attachment to keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future. As an explanation, I kind of discount actual fear that the inmates might escape from a super maximum security prison in the United States. I know they fan that fear whenever the subject of closing Gitmo comes up, but I believe this is just a tactic.

Maybe they just don’t want to admit that they were wrong to support the Cuban prison in the first place. That certainly seems to animate the most vocal opponents who also are the most notorious neoconservative members of the Senate.

Take a look at how they’re responding to the administration’s just-announced plan to close the notorious facility:

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the armed services committee, all but rejected a plan he himself has urged the administration to submit. McCain has shifted his positions on Guantánamo from the Bush to the Obama administrations, but has positioned himself as the last gasp of Obama’s ambitions to win congressional support.

McCain, while pledging to look at the plan in hearings, termed it “a vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantánamo, let alone a coherent policy to deal with future terrorist detainees,” and said Obama had “missed a major chance”.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican on the armed services committee, preemptively rejected the final proposal in a statement.

“The president is doubling down on a dangerous plan to close Guantánamo – a move that I will continue to fight in the Senate,” Ayotte said.

Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican and war veteran, dismissed the plan as a “political exercise”. Cotton, a rising star in GOP national security circles, received significant media attention for declaring Guantánamo detainees “can rot in hell” last year.

Then there’s Marco Rubio, who is already criticizing the plan on the campaign trail, saying that not only shouldn’t the prison close, but we should never give the property at Gitmo back to a “communist dictatorship.”

I don’t expect Congress to act on the president’s plan. Maybe Obama will act after the November election when he’s truly a lame duck. What are they gonna do? Impeach him?

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 23, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Republicans, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cleaning Up The Last Bush/Cheney Mess”: There Is Almost Never A Way To Do So That Pleases Everyone

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won’t try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address “Turning the Page,” a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on…the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.

Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.

The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.

For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release but are still there, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail – mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn’t be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama’s likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Congress, GITMO | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blight On The Reputation Of The United States”: President Obama Is Determined To Close Gitmo

Perhaps because none of the 2016 presidential candidates are talking about it, I haven’t seen much in the media about this:

Facing a potential showdown with Congress, the Pentagon is racing to move dozens of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in coming months before lawmakers can block future transfers and derail President Obama’s plan to shutter the U.S. military prison.

As a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June. In all, the Pentagon hopes that 57 inmates who are approved for transfer will be resettled by the end of 2015. That would require “large muscle movements” by at least two countries, which officials hope will each agree to take in 10 to 20 Yemeni detainees, who cannot be repatriated because of security conditions in their war-torn homeland.

The potential showdown with Congress they are referring is that Sen. Ayotte is sponsoring a bill that would extend the current ban on bringing prisoners to the United States and effectively bar transfers to other countries. Of course President Obama could veto such a bill – unless, as we’ve seen in previous years, it was part of the Pentagon’s omnibus budget appropriation.

What’s interesting is that the President is currently working on an alternative with Sen. Ayotte’s best buddy, Sen. McCain.

The White House is drafting a plan that officials hope will receive the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as an alternate to Ayotte’s measure. McCain has previously expressed openness to shutting the prison.

But it’s far from certain, even with McCain’s backing, that lawmakers would fall in behind the White House’s plan, which would allow detainees to be brought to the United States for trial or detention and would enable the continued transfer of others to foreign nations.

“It’s looking very difficult,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and a leading advocate for allowing prisoners to be brought to the United States. “I don’t see what changes minds or persuades people at this point,” he said. “But that’s what [the White House] is attempting to do.”

If that were to fail:

In the event that Congress does pass legislation that would freeze Guantanamo Bay’s population, currently at 122, White House officials are exploring options for the unilateral closure of the prison and moving detainees into the United States, an action that Congress has opposed from the president’s first months in office.

Notice that they are “exploring options for the unilateral closure.” So it’s clear they don’t have a plan yet. But do you get the idea this President is serious about this? One way or the other he is determined to have this blight on the reputation of the United States closed before he leaves office.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GITMO, Pentagon | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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