The Obama administration is in accord with majorities in both chambers of Congress regarding the National Defense Authorization bill’s provisions authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial for terrorism suspects, possibly including American citizens captured on American soil. The ACLU said the bill “contains harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world.”
Aside from the controversy of what this does to due process rights for U.S. citizens, which is rightly getting a lot of the attention at the moment, it is still important to reflect on what this bill does to non-citizens suspected of being terrorists or supporting terrorism.
Carol Rosenberg’s recent piece at Foreign Affairs does a fair job at that by focussing on Guantanamo Bay. She writes that the bill “not only reinforces these restrictions [preventing trials of Guantanamo detainees] but moves to mandate military detention for most future al Qaeda cases unless the president signs a waiver,” which is unlikely to happen because “Congress crafted the transfer waivers a year ago in such a way that Panetta (and Robert Gates before him) would be ill-advised to sign them. (In essence, the Secretary of Defense is supposed to guarantee that the detainee would never in the future engage in violence against any American citizen or U.S. interest.)” Additionally, U.S. District Court judges have been turning down the scores of unlawful detention suits coming from Guantanamo, despite the fact that the 2009 Task Force Review concluded that about 80 of the 171 detainees now held at Guantánamo were unlawfully detained and should be resettled in their home country or a third country, circumstances permitting. Essentially, Rosenberg writes, the only way out of Guantanamo for current and future detainees is in a body bag:
The last two prisoners to leave the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay were dead. On February 1, Awal Gul, a 48-year-old Afghan, collapsed in the shower and died of an apparent heart attack after working out on an exercise machine. Then, at dawn one morning in May, Haji Nassim, a 37-year-old man also from Afghanistan, was found hanging from bed linen in a prison camp recreation yard.
In both cases, the Pentagon conducted swift autopsies and the U.S. military sent the bodies back to Afghanistan for traditional Muslim burials. These voyages were something the Pentagon had not planned for either man: each was an “indefinite detainee,” categorized by the Obama administration’s 2009 Guantánamo Review Task Force as someone against whom the United States had no evidence to convict of a war crime but had concluded was too dangerous to let go. Today, this category of detainees makes up 46 of the last 171 captives held at Guantánamo. The only guaranteed route out of Guantánamo these days for a detainee, it seems, is in a body bag.
This is really the epitome of what we at Antiwar.com and various others have been saying about Obama and the Democrats from day one: they were never the remedy to Bush and the Republicans. For those of us who have the decency not to blindly follow favored political leaders, burying all cognitive dissonance behind the rhetoric set by their betters in Washington, Obama’s avid support for indefinite military detention without charge or trial is a tragic yet expected development. For those others that believed in the change he promised, have you any excuse to cast a lesser evil vote for Obama in 2012?