Obama’s Guantanamo

After initially lauding Obama’s steps towards closing the detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay, human rights lawyers are criticizing [A1] the administration’s actions regarding the major detention center in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

The Justice Department has quietly ruled that hundreds of detainees in Bagram have no right to trial, "embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team," the New York Times [A2] reported.

Legal scholar Scott Silliman of Duke points [A3] out that extending the right to trial (habeas corpus) to prisoners outside of Guantánamo would "open a door that would extend to any detention center by the United States anywhere else in the world." 

As civil rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald explained, the Bush/Obama [A4] position is that prisoners of war that are captured in an active "war theater" are not entitled to habeas corpus rights, only to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

But Greenwald notes that there are many [A5] individuals in Bagram that were captured far from Afghanistan (i.e. Thailand), and were not engaged in fighting, which could turn Bagram into another Guantánamo.  POWs are also guaranteed Geneva Conventions protections, which lawyers say are absent in Bagram. 

Prof. Barbara Olshansky, who represents several detainees, told the BBC [A6] that in terms of due process and prison conditions, "Bagram is far worse than Guantánamo," and added[A7] "It’s quite a severe situation, and yet the US is planning a $60m new prison to hold 1,100 more people there." 

There are currently about 600 detainees in Bagram.

NYU professor and ACLU lawyer Jonathan Hafetz [A8] told Greenwald[A9]  that after a landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling that said that Guantánamo detainees cannot be denied habeas corpus, the Bush administration started sending detainees to Bagram precisely because they could be held indefinitely without judicial review. 

The most recent Obama Justice Department ruling is a continuation [A10] of "policy of trying to cut the courts out of the equation," Hafetz said.  Human rights campaigners fear the recent ruling will prolong and expand those extra-judicial [A11] methods instead of curtail them.

It’s too soon to tell, said [A12] Professor Jack Balkin of Yale Law, whether this is a "transitory policy" or whether the administration plans on just "[creating] Guantánamo in some other place."

 [A5]Military officials with access to intelligence reporting on the subject said about 40 of Bagram’s prisoners were Pakistanis, Arabs and other foreigners; some were previously held by the C.I.A. in secret interrogation centers in Afghanistan and other countries. Officials said the intelligence agency had been reluctant to send some of those prisoners on to Guantánamo because of the possibility that their C.I.A. custody could eventually be scrutinized in court. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/international/26bagram.html?_r=2&sq=bagram&st=cse&scp=7&pagewanted=all

Clive Stafford Smith in a must-read piece

 "Guantanamo Bay was a diversionary tactic in the ‘War on Terror’," he said. "Totting up the prisoners around the world — held by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, the prison ships and Diego Garcia, or held by U.S. proxies in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco — the numbers dwarf Guantanamo. There are still perhaps as many as 18,000 people in legal black holes.


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