Monday, November 12, 2012

Where's the "Pathway" for Closure of Guantanamo?

Last Friday, November 9, Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First (HRF), hosted a press call with retired Rear Admiral Don Guter. HRF, along with a number of other human rights and legal groups, are calling upon President Barack Obama to fulfill his January 2009 pledge to close Guantanamo's detention facility.

Admiral Guter was the Navy's Judge Advocate General in 2000-2002. Last January, along with 14 other high-ranking former officers, Guter signed an open letter to President Obama calling for the immediate closure of Guantanamo.

The retired military officers were willing to put the blame on Obama's failure to keep his promise on a recalcitrant Congress.

"We recognize the political opposition you have faced in attempting to honor your commitment," Guter and the others wrote. "Congress has repeatedly restricted your ability to transfer detainees held there who have been cleared for release. Congress has also restricted your authority to bring criminal suspects held at Guantanamo to justice in our time-honored federal criminal courts. However, despite these restrictions, we are asking you to act within the discretion available to you to move our nation forward in closing Guantanamo once and for all."

But according to a question I posed to Guter last Friday, neither Obama nor anyone in his administration even bothered to reply to the 15 former "high-ranking former officers," which included General Joseph Hoar (USMC, ret.), former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command, and Major General Antonio Taguba, who headed the Army's investigation into the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

But this didn't deter Admiral Guter, who maintains that Guantanamo is "still the symbol of the torture and the other horrific acts that took place down there, and still a symbol of delayed justice which we’re still experiencing." He added that Guantanamo's ongoing detention program has become a "recruiting tool" for U.S. enemies abroad. [Quote updated on 11/14 from an earlier version of this article, thanks to a transcript of the press call provided by HRF]

A Pathway?

Both Guter and Massimino maintained that there was a "pathway" for the closure of Guantanamo and the release of the 86 cleared detainees. But they would not be more specific about what it would be. Massimino indicated that a "policy blueprint" on the topic would be released during an HRF summit in the the first week of December.

I asked whether such a "pathway" would include the use of recent changes in the NDAA guidelines that would allow the Secretary of Defense to issue waivers that would guarantee the necessary security assurances for release. (For those who want Shaker Aamer released, for instance, such an action, long desired, is only a Leon Panetta signature away.)

It seemed that HRF's "pathway" would include such "flexibility in the waiver process", but more specifics were frustratingly withheld, no doubt awaiting the full roll-out of the programmatic call next month. However, Massimino did indicate that HRF will ask Obama to "task someone" to work specifically on the Guantanamo issue.

Despite the perspicacity of HRF and Admiral Guter in sticking with the Guantanamo issue, the reliance on faith in President Obama appears to be misplaced. Not only has he ignored those who have implored him on the issue in the past two years (including Admiral Guter himself), but his administration continues to do what it can to go after whistleblowers on torture (like John Kiriakou), who file suit against administration officials for torture (the latest defeat was in the Vance-Ertel suit against Rumsfeld), and press the Bush-era military commissions invention, only slightly modified from that of the previous administration.

No Accountability for Torture

The list of those who have escaped accountability for torture is getting to be a very long one, as attorney Jesselyn Radack wrote in an article recently about the Kiriakou guilty plea, noting the cover-ups have  spanned two administrations. (I'd note that her list mostly comes from the CIA and DoJ, but there are plenty of DoD operatives who could have been mentioned, too.)
Jose Rodriguez, Enrique "Ricky" Prado, Deuce Martinez, Alfreda Bikowsky, all of the lawyers who said it was legal, including my law school contemporary John Yoo (enjoying his tenured professorship) and now-federal judge Jay Bybee, twisted psychiatrists, including criminal contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, not to mention all of the names we still don't know of the anonymous masked brutes who kidnapped, rendered, beat, waterboarded, and deprived prisoners of the basic human dignities mandated by the Geneva Conventions.
Nor is it clear that a closure of Guantanamo -- should it indeed come -- wouldn't be primarily to cover-up on-going U.S. interrogation and detention crimes at Bagram, or other U.S. black sites from Somalia and Libya to Afghanistan. Indeed, Moon of Alabama has tied the current David Petraeus scandal and resignation to revelations about a CIA detention site in Benghazi, Libya.

But the clearest sign of political weakness on the torture issue lies in the relative disinterest in the topic by the vast majority of the press. During the press call with HRF, mine was the only question by the press. I can't know how many were present during the press call, but I wouldn't be shocked if the turnout was very low.

So, I don't have much faith in the Obama administration doing the right thing. But maybe HRF, Guter, and others will be successful in the long run. Unfortunately, I believe it will take a massive social struggle to change the torture policy of the U.S., as it has long been linked to a military and political policy of support for dictatorial regimes abroad, to such a degree that the problem has become systemic.

The U.S. cannot give up its torture habit, one that goes back decades now, way before Bush and Obama, even if Guter and his co-thinkers believe they can make U.S. military practice more ethical. I wish them luck, but I just don't have the requisite faith they have.

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