Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't do it!

The Obama administration is considering issuing an executive order that would allow so-called "preventive detention" of terrorism suspects without charge or trial. This has been coming for a long time, because the President is searching for a way to go back on his promise to close Guantanamo by next January.

Such an order would be odious, unconstitutional, and make the U.S. no different than other countries around the world that feel free to lock people in jail and throw away the key. It would also, of course, continue and endorse the Bush administration's position that the Constitution can be suspended at will, even though the U.S. Supreme Court--despite its current makeup--has ruled otherwise several times.

Now, just why is this happening? The New York Times, which reports on this today, provides some of the reasons:

... the possibility of the order appeared to reflect increasing frustration within the administration over the difficulties posed by the effort to meet Mr. Obama’s commitment to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by January and the dwindling options for dealing with the detainees before then.At the heart of the issue are more than 200 men being held at Guantánamo, in some cases for years. Initially, the administration had hoped that most could either be sent back to their home countries or tried in criminal courts in the United States. But emptying the prisonhas proved politically difficult.


Officials acknowledge that they have had trouble persuading other countries to accept detainees, and it now appears that some detainees — as many as several dozen — are unlikely candidates for criminal trials because of legal issues, including having evidence against them that was obtained by coerced interrogations.

Legislation remains an option, officials said, but the possibility of an executive order, which would bypass Congress, seems to indicate that the administration fears it may be unable to reach an agreement with lawmakers on a new detention system to replace Guantánamo. The White House has been unable to effectively counter resistance to transferring detainees to the United States.

Let's just deal with that last point for a moment. The Obama administration has encountered resistance even to transferring detainees to maximum security federal prisons in the United States. So what? The decision about who is held in which federal prison is not made by local citizens, nor by squawking members of Congress, but by the Justice Department, and that's the way it should be. In this situation, the way to "counter resistance" is to do what is necessary, take the political flak and make the necessary explanations, and move on. But it would appear that the Obama administration might prefer to tear up the Constitution instead.

As for holding people without charge and without trial: That's what despots do. That's what the Iranian government does. That's what China does. That's what the Bush administration did. Is that the club we want to be members of?

PS--Sometimes we have to face the consequences of our own actions. If some detainees can't be brought to trial because the evidence against them was obtained by torture (meaning, of course, that the evidence might be wrong), then they have to be released, like it or not. Sometimes justice is not pretty, but at least we would know it's justice.

Salient comment... as usual from Glenn Greenwald, on the contemplated executive order.

Unlikely ally for residents of West Bank. It's good to see yet another article, this time in Sunday's New York Times, that is sympathetic with the plight of the Palestinians. This one is about an Israeli plumber and activist (who is also gay) in the Hebron Hills, where a particularly nasty group of settlers has been trying to prevent local residents from farming their land. It used to be that Israelis could simply count on anti-Arab racism (and boy, was there plenty of it in the United States when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s) to garner support from much of the rest of the world, but those days are on the wane. The key to Middle East peace is American Jews and their consciences: Only they can put the kind of pressure on both the U.S. and Israeli governments that is needed to make a just peace with the Palestinians.

Israeli settlements primer. Sunday's Los Angeles Times features a useful guide to the history and meaning of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights by Gershom Gorenberg. Settlements have always been the smoking gun of Israel's real intentions: To take over as much Palestinian land as possible and create facts on the ground that are difficult or impossible to reverse. Only Obama--oh, and by the way, the rest of the amazingly cowardly international community, including the Europeans, who have allowed Israel to call the shots for 42 years in territory that does not belong to it--stands in the way. Check out Gorenberg's latest blog post at, where he exposes the bullshit about settlements currently being dished out by the Israeli government.

1 comment:

Anne Gilbert said...

It almost seems, in this situation, that the Administration(or at least those people who are apparently trying to pressure Obama into taking this dreadful step), has forgotten the old legal principle that it's better to let 10 guilty people go free, than unjustly imprison one innocent person. This, I think, applies doubly, if torture,at least theoretically illegal everywhere, produced evidence that made that person "guilty".
Anne G