My first substantive post at discourse.net was ten years ago, and Rose Burawoy, Political Scientist, an even meatier post, was only a few days later. I was horrified by Guantanamo and by the Padilla case.
A great deal has changed since then, for me personally and for almost everyone else. Padilla is out of the Navy Brig and in a Miami jail — but Guantanamo is still there. It is hard not get used to it, but we need to make that effort.
Meanwhile, the blogging project has become somewhat more erratic as I have become deeply enmeshed in other projects, particularly Jotwell and We Robot. And I’m trying to keep up my scholarly writing productivity too; something has to go, and as I result I write fewer long pieces here. But not none!
If you haven’t been reading for ten years straight you might want to look at an arbitrary list of discourse.net’s greatest hits. It has what I think are the best posts — not the most popular. If I were listing the most popular it would be a very different list, probably headed by How Not To Pick Up Women Online, which for some years was on the first or second page of Google for people searching that phrase without the “not”.
More importantly, if you have not already done so, please would you take a minute and tell me a little something about yourself? One of the greatest rewards of shouting into the wind is to sometimes hear a voice answer back.
Mark my words, fifty years from now, Gitmo will be at the top of the list of things the Texas Board of Education wants banned from students’ history books.
– Opinio Juris » Dead Gitmo Detainee Cleared for Release Three Years Ago.
At first I thought this was surely the cool fact of the day: Global subway systems converge on common topologies. For example,
Patterns emerged: The core-and-branch topology, of course, and patterns more fine-grained. Roughly half the stations in any subway will be found on its outer branches rather than the core. The distance from a city’s center to its farthest terminus station is twice the diameter of the subway system’s core. This happens again and again.
But really, I think this is the cool fact of the day: the opinion in Hedges v. Obama, in which a fairly newly appointed District Court Judge, Katherine Forrest, holds that a § 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act is unconstitutional. That vague provision could be read to give the US government authority to put US citizens in military detention for meeting with terrorists and writing about them.
It’s a nicely written opinion; the key move seems to be that the court described the plaintiffs’ activities in speaking, meeting and writing to the government, gave them plenty of time to consider the facts before the hearing, and the government was unwilling or unable to say that these first amendment activities were outside the scope of the statute. This tactical choice by the government also caused the Court to find that the plaintiffs had standing — not commonly the result in such cases. Similarly, the government’s unwillingness to give definite much less narrowing constructions to key statutory terms led the Court to hold the statute unconstitutionally vague.
This is really something — even though it’s just a preliminary injunction. That means there’s still the next round in the District Court, then an appeal to the 2nd Circuit, and perhaps beyond.
I have a minor cameo in a Palm Beach Post article today, Ethical debates intensify as Guantanamo Bay detention center turns 10 by John Lantigua.
Detainees Will Still Be Held, but Not Tried, Official Says. Fifty people to be held without trial.
Note the logic here — the people to be held without trial are those the administration is afraid might be found not guilty in a fair trial. That's why they have to be held without trial, see? We can't convict them!
Some of us still hold to the old-school notion that when the government imprisons people whose guilt it cannot prove, or will not attempt to prove, something as old as the Magna Carta and as fundamental as the rule of law has been violated.
What a shame that the Obama administration is no more willing to hew to this basic principle than its predecessor. Thus does evil become institutionalized.
The St. Petersburg Times should be proud — their report on Gitmo, Meg Laughlin's Behind Guantanamo's walls, there are more walls, shows a lot more signs of real reporting than much of what you get in more famous newspapers.
When we ask the head psychologist, who calls himself “Eldorado” after the car, about the effects of prolonged solitary confinement, he says: “You see a lot of depression and anxiety.”
But Smo interrupts: “There is no solitary confinement here. They just spend a lot of time alone in their cells.”
To make the point that the detainees want nothing to do with us, the head guard at Camp 5 takes us to a window where he opens a blind so we can see a detainee sitting about 25 feet away. The inmate immediately ties a black plastic bag to a fence to block our view.
“You see how they don't want the media looking at them?” he says.
But we realize we are looking at a latrine and we have been invited to watch them defecate.
By January 2008, when Zanetti was there, detainees who weren't designated as “maximum-security prisoners” were coming up with trivial complaints that showed how spoiled they were.
To make his point, Zanetti read to me from a daily briefing from the first week of April 2008: “Prisoner 765 wants onions and parsley on his salad; 845 wants a better detainee newsletter; 632 wants a Bowflex machine to build his abs.”
But, according to the master list of prisoner names and numbers provided by the Pentagon, prisoners 632 and 845 left Guantanamo in 2006, two years before the complaints, and the number 765 was never assigned to a prisoner. I left Zanetti several phone messages seeking clarification, but he hasn't called back.
Well done, Ms. Laughlin. Don't expect a job on the Washington Post.
Obama Justice Department Urges Dismissal of Another Torture Case
In another move that suggests the Obama Department of Justice is not making many big policy breaks with its predecessor when it comes to the legal rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees, the department filed a brief renewing the government's motion to dismiss the case of Rasul v. Rumsfeld.
According to their legal complaint, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed claim they traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to offer humanitarian relief to civilians. In late November, they were kidnapped by Rashid Dostum, the Uzbeki warlord and leader of the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance. He turned them over to U.S. custody — apparently for bounty money that American officials were paying for suspected terrorists. In December, without any independent evidence that the men had engaged in hostilities against the United States, U.S. officials sent them to Guantanamo Bay. Over the next two years, they claim — as does a fourth British man — that they were imprisoned in cages, tortured and humiliated, forced to shave their beards and watch their Korans desecrated, until they were returned to Britain in 2004. None were ever charged with a crime.
Today, the Justice Department filed a brief arguing, as it did in Padilla’s case against Yoo, that government officials are not liable for torture, abuse, denial of due process or religious rights, because the right of Guantanamo prisoners not to suffer those abuses at the hands of the U.S. government was not clearly established at the time.
That would seem to contradict previous statements by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that torture and other abuses are clearly illegal, now and always.