Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba
Last year then presidential candidate Barack Obama called the Military Commissions being used to hear the cases of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay “an enormous failure.” Now he is accepting the Bush Administration’s thesis that civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Bush.
President Obama is also in agreement with Bush that terror suspects should be viewed as enemy fighters. Other areas of common ground are Obama’s decision to oppose the release of prisoner abuse photographs, supporting the indefinite detention for some detainees, and restoring Military Commissions.
He denounced this “shadow justice system” in 2007 and said civilian courts were the best option. After the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision gave terrorists habeas corpus rights, Obama laid into the Bush Administration’s “legal black hole” and “dangerously flawed legal approach,” which “undermines the very values we are fighting to defend.” Now Obama has reversed himself.
It will be interesting to watch Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal defend the new Military Commissions in court. In 2007 he wrote in “Slate,” “Military commission trials are not ‘equal justice’: For the first time since equality was written into our Constitution, America has created one criminal trial for ‘us’ and one for ‘them.’ Whatever else might be said about the Guantanamo courtroom, it will never symbolize America or what it is about.”
The Military Commissions Act was passed by Congress and it respects our obligations under the Geneva Convention. Congress took this initiative because of its belief that the Constitutional provision guaranteeing habeas corpus does not apply to alien enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States. Provisions in the Act removing habeas corpus does not apply to United States citizens. The Congress then concluded that this law does not conflict with the Constitution.
It is difficult to see how Obama will be able to close the Guantanamo facility by the end of the year as he has promised. Congressional opposition to bringing the prisoners to the United States is also increasing. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said Guantanamo Bay was the best venue to try terror suspects. “Given the disruption and potential dangers caused by bringing terror suspects into American communities, the secure, modern courtroom at Guantanamo Bay is the appropriate place for commission proceedings,” McConnell said. The camp still holds 241 inmates from 30 different countries.
Today President Obama said “A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.” The President released five “torture memos” compiled during the Bush administration and he vowed never to use these techniques again. Many news reports are now claiming our nation used torture and that it was not effective.
The techniques were brutal, but they did not fall under the definition of torture and they clearly saved lives. The U.S. violated no anti-torture laws. The use of these techniques does not inflict either physical or psychological damage. As former CIA Director Hayden says, “”The (harsh) techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA … as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations.” Former CIA Director George Tenet maintains, “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than [what] the FBI, the [CIA], and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.” Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said, “We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened.”
The most important legacy from the administration of former President George W. Bush is that the nation remained safe from attacks after September 11, 2001. The terrorist plots directed at America all failed, while they were successful in Spain, London, Indonesia and India. There appears to be little appreciation of this accomplishment while considerable sympathy is being expressed for the enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay.
The United States has always been far more conservative than any other country or entity in our military doctrines. We don’t behead innocent people as examples. We don’t hold troops for years and subject them to beatings, torture and starvation. America does not train its children to kill, and we don’t use mentally challenged individuals as suicide bombers.
If the CIA or our military is guilty of torture those individuals should be prosecuted. However, President Obama has already told us this is not going to happen. I have read the memos and they prove to me we did not torture.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage both worked from day one on the Guantanamo situation. For example, Ambassador Pierre Prosper, the U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, was under a barrage of questions and directions almost daily from Powell or Armitage to repatriate every detainee who could be repatriated. As early as 2004, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England was calling for Guantanamo to be shut down. President Bush also said he wanted the facility closed.
Finally, the United States has been waterboarding its own special forces troops for years to prep them for being captured, and that’s mild compared to other things they are subjected too in training.