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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

the disappeared

Padilla was finally indicted today. It's something, at least. Until recently the Administration was arguing that it had the right to hold a US citizen indefinitely, without trial, as an "unlawful combatant" without having to present evidence to anyone. Under those rules, of course, the government would have the right to kidnap any one of us and hold us incommunicado - we're not enemy combatants, but if the government doesn't have to show evidence, it doesn't need evidence. They can come in the middle of the night and take you away without explanation, yes, Mr. Durbin, just like in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or Saddam's Iraq (or, increasingly, the new Iraq as well). So charging Padilla is a step back from the brink, but considering everything else that's coming to light, it's not enough.

I don't even have the words for what's happening to our country, so I'm just going to have to direct you to a few people who have been able to tell it better than I can. The news about what I've been calling America's "Gulag Archipeligo" for the past two years just keeps getting worse. And in the name of maintaining this national abomination, Congress has moved to strip us of our most basic legal rights. From the Tribune:
Senate may rethink detainee rights
Guantanamo measure immediately challenged

By Frank Davies
Knight Ridder/Tribune
Published November 12, 2005


WASHINGTON -- For almost eight centuries the "great writ" of habeas corpus has been a bedrock principle of English and American law, from the Magna Carta to today's jails and courts. It's the means for a prisoner to contest his imprisonment before a judge.

That's one reason legal experts were stunned when the Senate, after an hour of debate, voted Thursday to overturn the Supreme Court's extension of habeas corpus protection to 500-plus detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

Opponents vowed Friday to fight the measure, and negotiators on the issue said the Senate may reconsider it early next week. The White House, which previously has opposed oversight of Guantanamo by Congress and the courts, supports the Senate action, spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said Friday.

Under the provision, proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo no longer would be allowed to challenge their detentions in federal court. Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and many have been held for almost four years without charges. . .

Among the many problems with this policy, the biggest one is that without the ability to challenge their detention in court, innocent detainees have no way to get out of prison. I'm not talking here about detainees who merely claim they are innocent, I'm talking obout people whom the military's own tribunals found innocent months ago - people who were detained in Afghanistan becuse they were non-Afghan and Pakistani bounty hunters wanted the $5,000 reward for turning in "al Quaeda members."

Read this piece. Seriously, read it right now. The kicker:
The government thinks it is perfectly acceptable not to inform counsel or the court when it determines that detainees are not enemy combatants, even though the allegation that they are enemy combatants is central to the justification for holding them. They seem to think, in addition, that it is acceptable to mislead counsel and the Court about the status of those detainees. They also think it is fine to keep those detainees at Guantanamo, to chain detainees who are not enemy combatants to the floor, and to deny them the right to communicate with anyone in the outside world, including relatives who think they are dead, and to confiscate things like photographs of their families as contraband. They claim that they cannot discuss the efforts they are making to place those detainees, and that they cannot release those detainees until those efforts, whatever they are, are completed, which will be "'soon' in kind of the hopeful sense of the word."
. . .
This is shameful. We paid Pakistani bounty hunters for captives. I'm sure there are reasons for doing this, but it obviously creates incentives for bounty hunters to claim that people who have done nothing wrong are terrorists; and if we, as a nation, are prepared to create those perverse incentives, then we, as a nation, should be prepared to take action when we realize that we have wrongly imprisoned someone as a result. (In this case, I think that we should find some non-precedent-setting way of offering them asylum.) We took these men captive, and held them for years after we realized that they had done nothing wrong. We have stolen years of their lives, and they are still in prison to this day.

Now we have stripped them of the right to take their case to the courts and make it heard. We have said, in essence, that we will simply trust the government to do the right thing. We should not trust any government in this way, and certainly not this one, which has already shown a truly shocking disdain both for the legal rights of anyone who falls into its hands, innocent or guilty, and for the separation of powers; and an equally shocking unwillingness to even begin to police itself.


Speaking of unlawful imprisonment, I've been yelling for years about the existence of an American "Gulag Archipeligo" of secret prisons aroung the world, which has now be confirmed by Washington Post:
CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons
Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; Page A01

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.
And this is what happens to the people who stay in our custody. At least as troubling has been the policy of "Extraordinary Rendition" under which suspects in American custody are taken by a "Special Removal Unit" to countries where torture is routinely practiced, and handed over with the understanding that any "intelligence" gained will be shared. From the New Yorker:
On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that “torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.” Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush’s statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.”

Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.
During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of “the Special Removal Unit.” The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism.
As that little vignette reveals, the problem with torture is that people eventually confess to whatever you want them to, in order to stop the torture. That's not real useful if you're trying to get actual information out of people. But it's real convienient if you're trying to throw together a bogus case for war:

A few months after September 11th, the U.S. gained custody of its first high-ranking Al Qaeda figure, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. He had run bin Laden’s terrorist training camp in Khalden, Afghanistan, and was detained in Pakistan. Zacarias Moussaoui, who was already in U.S. custody, and Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber, had both spent time at the Khalden camp. At the F.B.I.’s field office in New York, Jack Cloonan, an officer who had worked for the agency since 1972, struggled to maintain control of the legal process in Afghanistan. C.I.A. and F.B.I. agents were vying to take possession of Libi. Cloonan, who worked with Dan Coleman on anti-terrorism cases for many years, said he felt that “neither the Moussaoui case nor the Reid case was a slam dunk.” He became intent on securing Libi’s testimony as a witness against them. He advised his F.B.I. colleagues in Afghanistan to question Libi respectfully, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He recalled, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’ ”

Cloonan’s F.B.I. colleagues advised Libi of his rights and took turns with C.I.A. agents in questioning him. After a few days, F.B.I. officials felt that they were developing a good rapport with him. The C.I.A. agents, however, felt that he was lying to them, and needed tougher interrogation.

To Cloonan’s dismay, the C.I.A. reportedly rendered Libi to Egypt. He was seen boarding a plane in Afghanistan, restrained by handcuffs and ankle cuffs, his mouth covered by duct tape. Cloonan, who retired from the F.B.I. in 2002, said, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”

After Libi was taken to Egypt, the F.B.I. lost track of him. Yet he evidently played a crucial background role in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s momentous address to the United Nations Security Council in February, 2003, which argued the case for a preëmptive war against Iraq. In his speech, Powell did not refer to Libi by name, but he announced to the world that “a senior terrorist operative” who “was responsible for one of Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan” had told U.S. authorities that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two Al Qaeda operatives in the use of “chemical or biological weapons.”

Last summer, Newsweek reported that Libi, who was eventually transferred from Egypt to Guantánamo Bay, was the source of the incendiary charge cited by Powell, and that he had recanted. By then, the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had passed and the 9/11 Commission had declared that there was no known evidence of a working relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Dan Coleman was disgusted when he heard about Libi’s false confession. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” he said. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

Most authorities on interrogation, in and out of government, agree that torture and lesser forms of physical coercion succeed in producing confessions. The problem is that these confessions aren’t necessarily true. Three of the Guantánamo detainees released by the U.S. to Great Britain last year, for example, had confessed that they had appeared in a blurry video, obtained by American investigators, that documented a group of acolytes meeting with bin Laden in Afghanistan. As reported in the London Observer, British intelligence officials arrived at Guantánamo with evidence that the accused men had been living in England at the time the video was made. The detainees told British authorities that they had been coerced into making false confessions.

So there you have it, folks. The steady erosion of our constitutional and human rights at the hands of the Bush Administration, to the deep and profound disgrace of our country. A big player in this slow death of our freedom has been a gentleman by the name of Lindsay Graham, who hypocritically votes to ban the use of torture while making sure that America's detainees are deprived of the legal protections necessary to prevent it. Show him some love, people.

Don't some of these people swear an oath to preserve and protect the constitution? And if they break that oath, isn't that grounds for impeachment?

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