SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

May 31, 2013

Why isn’t Guantanamo done?

Guantanamo could be closed if Obama really wanted to do it

                                                            Joe Nocera

Commentary

Late last Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before President Barack Obama made his big national-security speech — in which he said, for the umpteenth time, that the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed — a group of American lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees filed an emergency motion with the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The motion asked the court to order the removal of “unjustified burdens” that the military command at Guantanamo has placed on the detainees, making it nearly impossible for them to meet their lawyers.

Lawyers used to be able to speak to their clients on the phone, or could visit them in Camp 5 or Camp 6, where the “no value” detainees have been confined for years. (The smaller group of genuine terrorists is held in separate quarters.)

Not anymore. Today, if a lawyer asks to speak with his or her client, a meeting — and even a phone call — must take place at another location. And before they are moved to the location, the detainees are searched for “contraband.” According to the legal filings, the search includes touching the genitals and the anus of the detainees — which, as the military well knows, violates the detainees’ Muslim faith and will cause them to refuse the meeting. If the detainee does decide to go forward with the meeting, he is then shackled hand and foot, and chained to the floor of a van, in a purposely painful, bent-over position.

The detainees are all in solitary confinement. They are shackled when they are taken to the shower. They cannot speak to their families unless they allow their genitals and anus to be searched. In other words, an already-inhumane situation has become even worse on the watch of the president who claims to want to shut the prison down.

In his speech on Thursday, the president hit all the right notes. He talked about how holding detainees for an indefinite period without charging them with any crime has made the prison “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” He noted that it has hurt us with our allies. He even mentioned how absurdly expensive the prison is — nearly $1 million per prisoner per year. “Is this who we are?” he asked.

“History,” he concluded, “will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism.” He’s right about that. But he will not be immune from that judgment.

In his speech, Obama blamed his failure to close Guantanamo — which, please recall, was one of his most strident campaign promises five years agoon laws passed by Congress.

But Congress didn’t make it impossible. The president could have jumped through the hoops Congress now requires and continued moving prisoners out of Guantanamo. But he didn’t. Instead, he froze all transfers, including 56 men from Yemen whom a national-security commission that Obama himself established had “cleared” for transfer. The government, the commission essentially said, had no national-security interest in holding these men. Yet Obama continued to let them rot in that Cuban hell. And you wonder why they are on a hunger strike?

Or, for that matter, why the military command at Guantanamo has no compunction about instituting punishing new “burdens” on the detainees even as their commander-in-chief decries what goes on there? (For the record, a military spokesman denies that the heightened searches include genital and anal touching.) Indeed, the current commander of the prison, Rear Adm. John W. Smith Jr., was just named to a cushy new post at the National Defense University. Thumbing one’s nose at Obama, as virtually everyone in Washington has learned by now, has no consequences.

  • It is my belief, shared by many lawyers who have followed the legal battles over Guantanamo, that the president could have shut the prison down if he had been determined to do so. One reason the prisoners can’t get out is that the courts essentially have ruled that a president has an absolute right to imprison anyone he wants during a time of war — with no second-guessing from the other two branches of government. By the same legal logic, a president can free any prisoner in a time of war. Had the president taken that stance, there undoubtedly would have been a court fight. But so what? Aren’t some things worth fighting for?
  • Whenever he talks about Guantanamo, the president gives the impression that that’s what he believes. The shame — his shame — is that, for all his soaring rhetoric, he has yet to show that he is willing to act on that professed belief.

Joe Nocera writes for The New York Times.

(My Comment:

Joe Nocera whom I very much enjoy reading and admire, has been far kinder to President Obama than I would have been had I written a similar piece.  I am deeply opposed to our imprisoning these people in another land, not ours.  Why do that?  So we don’t have to look at them?  We all know that they are there as does the entire world.  It is one of our greatest shames in our entire history.  I am ashamed and do not condone this.   Why do we go on allowing it?

How can a nation claim to be law abiding  and simultaneously be so derelict in justice?  These people would prefer death to the existence which they are being forced to endure.  To force feed them is simply beyond belief to me. 

We should all demand that every one in government be held accountable for this atrocious act against  fellow human beings.  This must come to an end.  All that talk rings hollow and cheap.   Jan)

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