hugs ‘n’ kisses,
“President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.”
Ok, moving on:
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.
Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.
Rewind my selekta: “[T]he Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosectutions a far lower priorty”
A far lower priorty.
Of course, DeYoung and Finn wouldn’t be “objective” if they didn’t (falsely) balance things out with the requisite mealy-mouthed partisan broadsides from–wait for it, kiddies–some unnamed former Bush administration assbaskets who nostalgically break out their by-now-rusty bullshit shovels:
But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.
After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.
“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.”
Well, isn’t that cute! He never read the (um, non-existent files) that the Pentagon claimed are comprehensive (and are, um, non-existent), yet somehow still remains completely confident that all Gitmo detainees (apart from the 60 designated for release–oopsie!) are lawfully detained and cannot ever be released, because, um, well, because — hey, look! A Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk!
It does not. make. sense.
Ok, say what you want about the Nazis, but at least they had the *ahem* decency to keep oh-so-impeccable records on their detainees; would that the former administration have shown similar consideration.
Hilzoy (h/t) lays it out on the table:
It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I’m just glad they’re finally gone.
Yes, gone, but their tainted legacy, unfortunately, festers, like black mold spreading contamination throughout the structure of US and international law.
Steve Benen puts these latest revelations in context:
The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.
And in order to completely mitigate the rot that, over the past 8 years, has almost completely eaten away at the rule of law in the US, Sylvia/M believes that the Obama administration must subcontract the restoration of justice to the Hague:
If Obama really wants to restore our standing in the international community and to reinstate the rule of law here in the United States, now is the time to bind ourselves to the Rome Statute, submit to international justice, and start cleaning up the deeply entrenched messes our previous partisan warhawk regime has wrought. The damage is growing too deep and too great for our national court systems to fix alone.
At the very least, this latest postscript from The Dark Side further underscores how vital it is for the Obama administration to hold accountable those who, whether deliberately or by virture of willful indifference, chose–chose–to napalm all progress Western Civilization has made since the Magna Carta was signed.
Torching our value system, in order to save it.
In a must-read post today, Glenn Greenwald challenges Ruth Marcus and the establishment Washington consensus, in which the pursuit of war crimes charges against soon-to-be-former Bush officials is arbitrarily dismissed as either too polarizing, too partisan, or just too goddamn difficult to successfully prosecute, and thus should be preemptively abandoned. Greenwald explains why this virtually ensures the perpetuation of an unlawful historical feedback loop:
Along with the desire for just retribution, one of the two principal reasons we impose penalties for violations of the criminal law is deterrence — to provide an incentive for potential lawbreakers to refrain from breaking our laws, rather than deciding that it is beneficial to do so. Though there is debate about how best to accomplish it and how effective it ultimately is, deterrence of future crimes has been, and remains, a core purpose of the criminal law. That is about as basic as it gets. From Paul Robinson, University of Pennsylvania Law Professor, and John Darley, Psychology Professor at Princeton, in “The Role of Deterrence in the Criminal Law“:
For the past several decades, the deterrence of crime has been a centerpiece of criminal law reform. Law-givers have sought to optimize the control of crime by devising a penalty-setting system that assigns criminal punishments of a magnitude sufficient to deter a thinking individual from committing a crime.
Punishment for lawbreaking is precisely how we try to ensure that crimes “never happen again.” If instead — as Marcus and so many other urge — we hold political leaders harmless when they break the law, if we exempt them from punishment under the criminal law, then what possible reason would they have from refraining from breaking the law in the future? A principal reason for imposing punishment on lawbreakers is exactly what Marcus says she wants to achieve: “ensuring that these mistakes are not repeated.” By telling political leaders that they will not be punished when they break the law, the exact opposite outcome is achieved: ensuring that this conduct will be repeated.
Every time we immunize political leaders from the consequences of their crimes, it’s manipulatively justified in the name of “ensuring that it never happens again.” And every time, we do exactly the opposite: we make sure it will happen again. And it does: Richard Nixon is pardoned. J. Edgar Hoover’s lawbreakers are protected. The Iran-contra criminals are set free and put back into government. Lewis Libby is spared having to serve even a single day in prison despite multiple felony convictions. And now it’s time to immunize even those who tortured detainees and spied on Americans in violation of numerous treaties, domestic laws, and the most basic precepts of civilized Western justice.
One would hope to see those individuals who have been granted a national platform that allows them to have a measurable impact on the tone of discourse in Washington be responsible and advocate on behalf of the rule of law. Instead, they collectively sigh, texturally furrow their brows over how hard it is to do the right thing, before finally settling for the cold, easy comfort of doing nothing (shades of grey, children. Shades. Of. Grey.) In an article published yesterday by McClatchy Newspapers, Marisa Taylor starkly lays out the logical consequence of elite apathy towards defending the rule of law:
Without wider support, the campaign to haul top administration officials before an American court is likely to stall.
What this says to the nation, and the world, about the US and its lack of commitment to justice, human rights, and the rule of law is nothing short of staggering. As Loyola war law expert David Glazier put it,
It is mind boggling to say eight years later that there is not going to be some sort of criminal accountability for what happened… . It certainly undermines our moral authority and our ability to criticize other countries for doing exactly the same thing. But given the legal issues and the political reality, I am hard pressed to see any other outcome.
And because our gatekeepers of ‘reasonable’, ‘serious’ discourse can’t begin to envision any viable course of action other than forgive and (try our goddamndest to) forget, all of this–state-sanctioned torture and rendition, unlawful domestic surveillance, an unnecessary war in Iraq that, thus far, has killed well over a million people–has, in effect, been green-lighted twice. First, by Bush, Cheney and the rest of those who felt that burning the Constitution was the only way to save it. Then, retroactively, by those in the Beltway press corps, elite Washington society and–most egregiously–the incoming Democratic administration, all of whom would apparently rather practice their statesman-like ostrich pose than risk disrupting the inertial ebb and flow of their delicate political ecosystem.
John Brennan, President-elect Barack Obama’s top adviser on intelligence, took his name out of the running Tuesday for any intelligence position in the new administration.Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment as CIA director has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition policies.
In a 2005 interview on “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” Brennan defended rendition as “an absolutely vital tool.” In 2007 on CBS News, he said the CIA’s harsh interrogation program, which included waterboarding on at least three prisoners, produced “life saving” intelligence. Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning.
Brennan has spoken out publicly against waterboarding.
“The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored,” he wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current administration only to be rebuffed by the White House.”
Glennzilla explains why every decent human being should be breathing a sigh of relief at this development, and why Brennan’s contention that he should have gotten a plate of cookies because he was out of the loop with regards to the sausage-making process of torture “enhanced interrogation” is, in a word, bullshit:
Whether he “was involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies” is not and never was the issue. Rather, as I documented at length when I first wrote about Brennan, he was an ardent supporter of those policies, including “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition, both of which he said he was intimately familiar with as a result of his CIA position. As virtually everyone who opposed his nomination made clear — Andrew Sullivan, Digby, Cenk Uygur, Big Tent Democrat and others — that is why he was so unacceptable.
You can read Brennan’s withdrawal letter in full here.
h/t pogge @ BnR
Amil Khan on what Barack Obama’s victory could potentially mean for al-Qaida, the Middle East, and America’s image in the Muslim world:
It’s often overlooked that al-Qaida promises a fairer society. If its support is flagging, it’s because ordinary people have looked at its methods and wondered what sort of state it would run. But the calls for an end to corruption, nepotism and restoration of pride, dignity and self-determination still resound just as they have for more than 100 years through other ideologies.
Al-Qaida’s brand has done well in the past seven years because of America’s mistakes rather than the group’s achievements. By just proving its continued existence, it could assume an image on the streets of Cairo, Casablanca and Karachi as the plucky standard-bearer of Muslim pride. The torture in Abu Ghraib and the detainees in Guantanamo were heaven-sent opportunities to say; “Look! Rule of law? Human rights? All lies. None of that means anything to America.”
When America starts showing that it can deliver social justice at home, it makes public opinion in the Muslim world wonder whether it can do so abroad. However, the election only produces a window of opportunity for America, and Britain, to make a serious dent in al-Qaida’s rhetoric by proving their commitment to the ideas and principles for which they say they fight. The Obama victory will require follow-up if he is to change perceptions. Closing Guantánamo, as the president-elect has pledged, would be a great start.
Related: More on Obama’s ambiguous plans for the post-Guantanamo era from Cernig, Spattackerman, digby, and Mithras, who asks a salient question that threatens to be lost in the shadows of Camp Justice:
Although Gitmo is large and symbolically important, we reportedly have secret prisons all over the world. Is Obama going to include people being held there for long periods of time in this program?
“The beatings began as soon as I was turned over to the Americans,” Kurnaz said. Once in the Americans’ hands, he was transferred to a camp at Kandahar, in Afghanistan, where suspected terrorists were held in tents. His account of his torture at the hands of the Americans–in his book and in interviews–is clear-eyed and consistent. He has repeated it in testimony before a committee of the German parliament, where he was described as a “very credible witness.”
In the prison camp in Kandahar, Kurnaz said, he was hoisted on chains and was forced to hang by his hands while he was being interrogated. He was left hanging for “hours and days” after the interrogators left. An American physician in camouflage would come and check his vital signs to determine if he could withstand more enhanced interrogation.
The doctor’s house call must have failed Kurnaz’s neighbor in the next room. “They were hanging me and pulled me up higher than the other times. I could see the man in the other room. He was hanging, too. Maybe they lifted him higher that time, too, I don’t know. I had heard him moaning and breathing; this is the first time I saw him. He was dead. The color of his body was changed and I could see he was dead.”
Kurnaz said he was also subjected to waterboarding and electric shock. And that beatings were routine and constant. He theorizes that much of the torture was a result of the failure of the American soldiers and agents to capture any real terrorists in the initial sweeps. (He was told that he was sold to the Americans for $3,000 by Pakistani police, who identified him as a terrorist.) “They didn’t have any big fish. And they thought that by torture they could get one of us to say something. ‘I know Osama’ or something like that. Then they could say they had a big fish.”
Ah, the good old days, back when torture was still fucking illegal.