Republicans are berating Obama about the Somali pirate Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame who was caught in the Gulf of Aden two months ago and kept on board a U.S. Navy ship for interrogation instead of being informed of his rights. Indeed, they are criticizing the administration heavily on having recognized his rights at all:
“Why is it so hard for President Obama to acknowledge what the majority of Americans already know: foreign terrorists are enemies of America,” [Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas] said. “They should not be tried as common criminals, but as terrorists in military commissions at Guantanamo Bay.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell took the floor Wednesday to denounce the move. “Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame is a foreign enemy combatant,” McConnell said, “He should be treated as one; he should be sitting in a cell Guantanamo Bay, and eventually be tried before a military commission.”
Anyone unencumbered by these GOP slogans about (1) depriving people of their legal rights and (2) fear-mongering Americans into believing that trying accused terrorists on American soil actually represents some kind of national security threat, knows that the real story here is that Warsame was held and interrogated for two months without a access to a lawyer or being informed that he had the right to remain silent. This is an affront to individual liberty that the U.S. government has, on the whole, insisted on implementing in a systematic way post-9/11. The Republican Party seems to disagree, thinking the travesty is that he wasn’t shipped off to Guantanamo for indefinite imprisonment immediately.
As per usual, though, there is blame to go around. Some commentaries are attempting to point out, as the above Time link does, that it was a Republican-controlled Congress which enacted legislation prohibiting the use of federal funds to transfer Gitmo detainees to the U.S. and therefore Obama’s breach of the law in this case was the fault of Republicans putting him between a rock and a hard place. Glenn Greenwald laid that dishonest excuse to rest back in January, after Obama “signed an executive order…that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay“:
It is true that Congress — with the overwhelming support of both parties — has enacted several measures making it much more difficult, indeed impossible, to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the U.S. But long before that ever happened, Obama made clear that he wanted to continue the twin defining pillars of the Bush detention regime: namely, (1) indefinite, charge-free detention and (2) military commissions (for those lucky enough to be charged with something). Obama never had a plan for “closing Guantanamo” in any meaningful sense; the most he sought to do was to move it a few thousand miles north to Illinois, where its defining injustices would endure.
The preservation of the crux of the Bush detention scheme was advocated by Obama long before Congress’ ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. It was in May, 2009 — a mere five months after his inauguration — that Obama stood up in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and demanded a new law of “preventive detention” to empower him to imprison people without charges: a plan the New York Times said “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself.” It was the same month that the administration announced it intended to continue to deny many detainees trials, instead preserving the military commissions scheme, albeit with modifications. And the first — and only — Obama plan for “closing Guantanamo” came in December, 2009, and it entailed nothing more than transferring the camp to a supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois, while preserving its key ingredients, prompting the name “Gitmo North.”
Party devotees will attempt to paint the perfunctory objections to this Warsame treatment as in the right or on the side of justice, but there is still a bi-partisan consensus on depriving accused terrorists of their legal rights. It’s true, Warsame will be tried on U.S. soil in civilian courts (which is better than some of the potential alternatives now being argued for), but only after being held and interrogated for two months, long enough for anyone to self-incriminate.
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