Nearly all the known Republican candidates for the presidency have signed a pledge to assure their voter base that they share common principles (“Signing Away the Right to Govern,” The New York Times, July 19). Among the pledges:
“Cut off federal financing to Planned Parenthood … and enacting a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.” But omitted from any of these texts is a pledge to restore the Constitution’s fundamental separation of powers that has been imperiously ignored by the Bush-Cheney and Obama administrations, thereby resulting in a shroud of secrecy (the “state secrets” closing of court cases vital to our rule of law) and so much increased surveillance by the state that it makes us a nation of suspects.
Predictably, the Democratic base for our sovereign incumbent’s re-election has shown no concern for reviving our individual liberties under the Constitution.
Accordingly, there is a festering Obama war crime very unlikely to be mentioned during next year’s skewering debates and character assassinations. On July 16, 2009 (“Mr. President: We Are Still Torturing?” cato.org), I reported:
“In a continuation of the Bush-Cheney practice of deliberately keeping certain groups of suspects far away from our courts and our laws, as well as hidden from monitoring by international human-rights groups, the Obama administration has told a federal court that our prisoners at Bagram (Air Field in Afghanistan), many held for more than six years without charges, have no rights under our laws.”
No wonder Obama, the self-ordained champion of transparency, continues to oppose charges by civil-rights and human-rights organizations that some Bagram “detainees” have been killed during “coercive interrogations” at a principal U.S. prison there inmates call “the black hole” (“Afghans ‘abused at secret prison at Bagram airbase’” BBC News, April 15, 2010).
For more documentation of what was and is being done in our name at Bagram, there is the fourth article in Bagram Week by Andy Worthington, a truly reliable investigative reporter (“The ‘Dark Side’ of Bagram: An Ex-Prisoner’s Account of Two Years of Abuse,” www.andyworthington.co.uk, April 17, 2011). He quotes a former prisoner in the main Tor Jail (“the Black Jail”):
“There were also no facilities for handicapped or wounded people. Many prisoners had no legs or had other handicaps. It was difficult for them to go to the bathroom. There was one person in my cell who had fallen off the roof when he was arrested. His 10-year-old son was shot during the raid. He arrived in prison with two broken legs. For two months we carried him to the bathroom.”
A website I visit every day is JURIST–Legal News and Research, maintained by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law (jurist.org). In “Bagram detainees allege torture at a secret U.S. Prison in Afghanistan: BBC” (jurist.org, April 15, 2010), I find: “U.S. President Barack Obama made a surprise visit … to the base at Afghanistan (and its prison).”
What did he see? What were his reactions? That is classified. You want to know why? From the same Jurist story: “Despite the alleged witness accounts of torture … the U.S. government continues to deny the existence of secret prisons in Afghanistan.”
For four years, the ACLU, logically dismissing this denial by the Obama administration – including its curiously named Justice Department – has been trying hard to discover for itself what’s actually happening at Bagram. In April 2009, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the actual records of the detention and treatment of Bagram prisoners and how they can “challenge their detention.”
As of now, the reality is that these prisoners still have no real-time, real-life way of challenging their imprisonment – let alone the conditions of their confinement – under what used to be our laws.
Currently before the courts, there is a rather unique and spirited dispute between the ACLU and the Department of Defense. In response to the ACLU FOIA request, the DOD sent to the ACLU, by mistake, a document about the criteria by which prisoners are held at the Bagram detention center. The Obama administration, insisting that the document was properly classified, demands it be returned to the DOD.
Until this is resolved, the ACLU can’t tell me what’s in that especially secret document. But it does say, “It contains the criteria for labeling ‘detainees’ an ‘enduring security threat.’” I know this means “prolonged and possibly indefinite detention.” For some, a death sentence.
I’ve reported that President Obama is a big fan of preventative permanent detention, finding its legality somewhere in his personal constitution. However, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, teaches Obama our rule of law:
“The U.S. military should not be detaining people indefinitely, based on secret criteria, in a war with no foreseeable end,” Shamsi said. “Having seen the enduring security threat criteria, we can say without a doubt that nothing about them is properly classifiable or could pose any threat to national security if disclosed.
“The government should never have classified this document in the first place, and it is simply indefensible that it continues to seek suppression of the document now.” When the FOIA request was made in 2009, she adds, there were about 600 held at Bagram. “That number has now nearly tripled, and Bagram detainees still do not have access to a court or independent and impartial tribunal to determine the legality of their detention.”
I’ll keep you informed on how this battle turns out. Does any presidential aspirant of either party have anything to say? And please let me know if you hear any reference to Bagram torture during the 2012 presidential debates.
Oh, and let’s not forget that, despite Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay, it’s still open. Now he has two Guantanamos.