Adam Ash

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Friday, December 08, 2006

US Diary: the so-called "war on terror" exposes us as an immoral nation (a very, very sad admission to make)

1. Becoming What We Despise -- by Robert Scheer/Truthdig

Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, has been tortured by his own government for the better part of three-and-one-half years, suffering years of systematic sensory deprivation documented in his attorneys’ filings and supported by photos of the prisoner published this week by the New York Times.

In that time, Padilla, who has been judged by professionals as mentally ill as a consequence of his brutal treatment, has been denied his Constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial and was permitted no legal representation for 21 months. The Bush administration’s excuse for this betrayal of our legal system was that Padilla was a dangerous al Qaeda agent, a big fish caught in the administration’s successful pursuit of its much ballyhooed war on terror. In the words of then-U.S. Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft, Padilla was “a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or ‘dirty bomb,’ in the United States.” Those lurid claims were abandoned when the government, faced with a belated U.S. Supreme Court censure, finally charged Padilla with vague and lesser crimes carrying a maximum 15-year sentence.

Were this some isolated case of officially condoned sadism, say in a rural county jail, it could be minimized as an aberration. Instead, it is an all-too-accurate reflection of a presidential policy of dehumanizing anyone even suspected of being an enemy. The Times photos, taken from a government video, give evidence of a heavily manacled prisoner with masked eyes and muffled ears being walked down a corridor within a Navy brig, lending physical evidence to Padilla’s lawyer’s claims of a pattern of disorienting isolation. “There is nothing comparable in terms of severity of confinement, in terms of how Padilla was held, especially considering that this was pretrial confinement,” Philip D. Cave, a former Navy judge advocate general, told the Times.

Obviously, a prisoner who has been deliberately disorientated for so long is no longer in a position to exercise his right to confront his accusers. An examining psychiatrist wrote that “as the result of his experience during his detention and interrogation, Mr. Padilla does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness ... complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation.”

The excuse for this heinous treatment of a U.S. citizen is the same as that given for an entire orgy of despicable treatment of prisoners held in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and a gulag archipelago of secret military facilities around the world: Our enemies, all linked through sophistry to the 9/11 terror attacks, are so vile and dangerous that the limitations on government power enshrined in our guiding documents and political culture no longer apply. Once the Twin Towers were knocked down, supposedly, we could no longer afford to be “nice guys”—as if the rule of law is an indulgence of only the most secure nations.

By that standard, any tyrant can justify the cruelest of actions by citing enemies, real or imagined, be it King George III blockading Boston Harbor to teach the rebellious colonists a lesson or Saddam Hussein killing Kurdish villagers after an assassination attempt on his life. The very uniqueness of our national experiment was the checks and balances put upon the government to prevent such convenient rationalizations for abuse of the individual. The Founding Fathers won a war, but their true contribution to human history was to tackle head-on the reality that humans and their institutions can so easily become that which they despise.

Even when an American is suspected of a “capital or infamous crime,” as was Padilla, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically says he still cannot “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” That is why the Supreme Court finally forced the Bush administration to give Padilla his day in court.

In the end, the administration has retreated from its hoary claims; Padilla’s trial, set to begin on Jan. 22, does not include any reference to dirty bombs, al Qaeda, or any specific plans to attack America. Instead, he faces lesser charges claiming he was the recruit of a “North American support cell,” whose interest was in jihad in Bosnia and Chechnya. As if it had no bearing on the disoriented state of mind of the defendant, the Bush administration’s lawyers have argued in motions that his treatment as a prisoner should not be presented before the jury.

The more important question now, however, is when will those who, like Ashcroft, used this case to shamelessly exploit our fears for political purposes face their own day of accountability in a court of law?

2. Our Most Vulgar Instinct -- by Marie Cocco/Truthdig

WASHINGTON—The climax of the Iraq Study Group is an anticlimactic acknowledgement of what the American public knows and what even the president, in his own blinkered indignation, acknowledges. There is to be no graceful exit from Iraq.

The Democratic takeover of Congress, the agitation among Republicans who do not wish to be next to fall on the president’s sword, and the upcoming ascension of Robert ‘We’re-Not-Winning’ Gates to head the Pentagon, all point to a messy and prolonged departure as the least worst option. The study group provides a potential pathway out of Iraq, however dimly lit.

But who will lead us out of Cuba?

As a foreign policy debacle, the Bush administration’s detention and mistreatment of alleged terrorists—symbolized in its military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—is second only to the Iraq entanglement for its effect of having set much of the world, especially Muslims, against us. Ending the shame of Guantanamo does not have the urgency of sparing American troops from the carnage in Iraq. But repairing the damage of the Bush years—a long-term project now at last under way—requires it.

A first step is at hand in legislation promoted by Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd and Patrick Leahy. They seek to undo some of the worst of the assaults on the Constitution, and on America’s moral standing, contained in the pre-election legislation on military commissions.

In essence, the Military Commissions Act provided congressional approval of the Bush administration’s malfeasance. It wiped out any chance for non-citizens held by the U.S. anywhere in the world to challenge their detentions or demand evidence for them. It gave the president authority to declare any person (including a U.S. citizen) to be an ``unlawful enemy combatant,’’ even if that person has never taken up arms. An ``unlawful enemy combatant’’ can include any person who has ``purposefully and materially supported’’ those who committed hostilities. The vagueness could ensnare anyone, for example, who has donated to a charity that later turns out to have terrorist ties.

The Dodd measure would restore the ancient right of habeas corpus to detainees so that they can contest their confinement. It would narrow the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to include only those who directly participate in hostilities, the definition enshrined in international law. The military’s own reviews of detainee cases showed that more than half of the so-called ``combatants’’ imprisoned at Guantanamo committed no hostile act against U.S. or coalition forces, according to an ongoing study of government documents by Seton Hall University Law School. Most were found only to have some unspecified ``association’’ with individuals or groups purported to have terrorist links.

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals—the Pentagon’s term for the process it uses to declare someone an unlawful enemy combatant—are themselves a frightening farce. The latest Seton Hall review of official tribunal transcripts, published last month, shows that the government produced no witnesses at any hearing. It relied mostly on classified evidence that was considered conclusive—and which the detainee could not see. In 96 percent of the cases, authorities produced no documentary evidence for a detainee to review before his hearing. All requests by detainees to summon witnesses other than fellow prisoners at Guantanamo were denied.

Yet this is the only procedure the administration intends for all but about 80 of the 430 people currently held at Guantanamo. Only those charged with violating the laws of war or other grave offenses are to be tried in the newly authorized military commissions, according to a Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. J.D. Gordon.

The rest languish, as U.S. authorities try to get their home countries or other nations to take them off our own soiled hands. There is to be no graceful exit from Guantanamo. ``The question of what we do with Guantanamo is a huge question that nobody’s tackled so far,’’ says Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch.

Newly empowered Democrats must delve into that which has been left officially unexamined for more than four years: Who is at the prison? Of what, exactly, are they accused? How many were rounded up by bounty hunters or captured far from any battlefield?

The Dodd measure would partly solve the problem of the detainees’ legal rights if, in fact, it could pass and then survive a presidential veto. But nothing will salvage America’s reputation, short of closing the prison that stands as a monument to our most vulgar instinct.


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