Saturday, July 10, 2010

Guantanamo Confussion

Can you really blame me for being just a mite bit confussed here?

I mean, everybody knows Guantanamo Bay is a bad place, right?

A very bad place where very bad things happen to (almost) innocent people, right?

Which is why one of the things President Obama promised was to immediately close the place within 100 days his first year of taking office, giving those prisoners back their basic human rights that had so long been denied, right?

Wait, you mean it's still open?

Okay, but still, they must have did something about the situation between now and then, right?

Oh wait, now I remember. They declared that those poor innocent souls detained at Guantanamo Bay would no longer be called "enemy combatants". Because that would be just wrong. I mean, that is what they were called under the Bush administration. Enough said there.

The really strange part, though, was when the Obama administration argued that the President had the legal power to detain enemy combatants terror suspects at Gitmo. Without filing criminal charges. Sound familiar?
But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.

The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there.
But don't worry. It won't be how Bush et al did it.
The Obama administration said it was relying on existing principles of the international law of war. A public statement indicated that the government was moving away from claims of expansive executive power often used by the Bush administration to justify Guantánamo.

The new administration took pains to try to point out that it was taking a different approach. It said the new definition “does not rely on the president’s authority as commander in chief” beyond the powers authorized by Congress. The filing, in Federal District Court in Washington, was meant to provide a definition of those detainees who can be held and bitterly disappointed critics of Guantánamo, who said it seemed to continue the policies they have criticized for more than seven years.

It was the latest example of the Obama administration’s taking ownership of Guantánamo, even after having announced it would close the prison, where 241 men remain.
And, besides, they must have their reasons, right?

Like, I don't know, maybe the place wasn't really that bad after all?
Some critics of Guantánamo said that Friday’s filing fitted a pattern of recent moves by the administration that seemed intended to undercut continued criticism of Guantánamo but did not make significant changes in detention policy.

They noted that after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr visited the detention camp last month, he proclaimed it “well run.” They said they had been stung as well by a Pentagon report commissioned by the new administration that said last month that the detention camp on the naval base at Guantánamo Bay meets the humane-treatment requirements of the Geneva conventions.
Well, okay. Like whatever.

But they are most definitely still going to close the place and send everybody home. Or something like that, right?

Sure, but just one little itsy bitsy problem. Too bad about the 50 to 100 detainees who cannot be safely released, sent to other countries or tried in American courts. Which means they're going to go where exactly?

But don't fret, they will work it out. Somehow.

And at least in the meantime at least there won't be any more of those nasty "military commissions" Bush was so fond of using to try these ... what do we call them again ... detainees, right?

Okay then, so much for that.

The ultimate cliche might just be to note that life is often much, much harder than it looks. As is governing. So, let's cut the man (and his administration) a little slack.

After all, these are to be new and improved "military commissions" which will "begin to restore the Commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law". Hard to argue with that now, isn't it?

And as wrong as Gitmo may well have been in the first place, no one is saying there are any easy answers as to what to do with the detainees now.

So, yeah, I'm okay with all that.

Kind of. Sort of. For the most part. In a wait and see kind of way.

But here's what I really don't get:
The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don't want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.
Say what?! They actually want to stay? In Gitmo? For real?!

Yeah. Apparently they're not too anxious to return home to Algeria because they're afraid of either government torture or becoming the target of terrorist groups.

Which, okay, fair enough. After all, we civilized countries don't deport people to countries where they have a legitimate fear of torture or death.

And although I tend to think of these protections as applying more to innocent and legitimate refugees ... as opposed to, you know, terrorists ... it would be true that you and I can't easily judge exactly who is what at the moment so .... yeah, it probably makes sense that they shouldn't be returned home unless the US can ensure that there is "real substance" behind the diplomatic assurances that detainees repatriated to Algeria will be treated humanely.

Which is all fine and good.

But still. It makes me wonder ... if they're that willing to fight to stay right where they are because they fear torture or some other risk to their lives if they return home, I can only presume that means that, relatively speaking at least, Gitmo isn't really that bad of a place.

I mean, compared to Algeria. At least not anymore.


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