August 1, 2008

Gitmo 2: Afghanistan

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In June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act (MCA), finding that that provision, which empowered the president to suspend habeas corpus on a case-by-case basis, was unconstitutional. The restoration of the long-held legal principle that there must be a mechanism by which those the government imprisons can challenge their detention has resulted in a flurry of activity and publicity around the men incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Ironically, however, other recent news indicates that the detainees at Gitmo may actually be the lucky ones, despite the fact that torture has been a part of the interrogation program there, and that, up until recently, their internment appeared to be indefinite.

After several years pursuing the subject, Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest authored a series of articles in 2005 that detailed the Bush Administration's use of secret prisons on foreign soil - "black sites" - for the detention and interrogation of prisoners in the "War on Terror" to avoid even the minimal constraints at Guantanamo Bay. In 2006, President Bush acknowledged the existence of the black sites - claiming that the "alternative" methods of interrogation used "were tough, and they were safe and lawful and necessary." While Mr. Bush failed to explain the need for either the facilities or the new methods of questioning in light of their alleged safety and legality, shortly thereafter, 14 "high value" prisoners were transferred from the secret prisons to Guantanamo.

It remains unclear whether there are additional prisoners being held and questioned in secret, but there are clearly continuing efforts by the Bush Administration to skirt the law, the Constitution and international treaty with regard to human rights. In Afghanistan, 650 people are currently being held without access to legal redress at Bagram Air Base, and there are reportedly plans to build a sprawling prison complex there similar to Gitmo that would house terror suspects without trial. Worse, foreign journalists who have investigated the Bagram facility or brought attention to the scheme for the new prison have been labeled "enemy combatants" and disappeared into the very detention camps on which they were reporting.

Throughout its history, it has perhaps never been more clear to the entire world that there is a huge gulf between the United States' rhetoric of freedom and its actions. Is it any wonder that the rest of the world feels relief and hope at the prospect of a break from the Bush White House's course of national self-destruction for the richest, most powerful nation on the planet ?

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