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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/13/09

Obama's Pretense of Justice in Afghanistan

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Message Ron Fullwood
"Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you." -- Lincoln

THE Obama Justice Dept. has announced their decision to allow prisoners the U.S. military and other American intelligence agencies are holding at Bagram prison in Afghanistan to challenge their detentions. In an apparent step backward from their challenge of a district court ruling in April that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release, the decision this week would provide an administrative panel comprised of military officers (not personal or military counsel) who would determine the merit of the prisoner's appeals. The plan is to provide an opportunity for those detained to call witnesses and present evidence in their defense, something our citizens take for granted in our own legal system.

In April, the Obama Justice Department asked the court to halt the habeas-corpus cases of three detainees at Bagram, signaling their intention to continue the Bush administration practice of denying those detained by the U.S. at Gitmo and elsewhere basic rights to representation, trial, and appeal. The court had found that the cases at Bagram "closely parallel" those of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, "in large part because the detainees themselves as well as the rationale for detention are essentially the same." At Gitmo, similar Administrative Review Boards have been in place since the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 have to give these folks they'd tortured due process rights. Those grudging constructions are far from the representation Americans recognize as proper or necessary in our own defense against illegal or unreasonable detentions and haven't resulted in any significant reduction in the 'processing' of those still held under the anti-democratic constructions of the last administration, at Gitmo or anywhere else the U.S. is detaining the (mostly) political captives of their war on terror.

They call them terrorists, but only a fraction of the Arabs and Afghans held by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay or Afghanistan prisons have been charged with anything. You would think that if the U.S. had solid evidence against these prisoners they would bring charges against them. All the Bush regime and their Pentagon had actually wanted was permission to kill these Gitmo detainees, legal-like. They caught them on the 'battlefield' and they wanted to finish the job. Hell, when they caught these men (and boys) our soldiers had tanks, airstrikes, shock and awe . . . to them, all of this ducking around the Courts is an insult to all of the force and manpower they put behind capturing these prisoners.

Their greatest fear was that these prisoners would get their shot at what we take for granted here in America: a free and fair trial, due process, access to evidence against them with the right to challenge with witnesses, protection against use of coerced confessions . . . and that there won't be enough evidence to hold these prisoners, even though the military would fall over themselves to vouch for their guilt. That's why the Bush regime set up a tribunal with limited access to whatever evidence they classify, no redress against coerced 'evidence', and limited access to counsel (if any).

What the military and other intelligence agencies really want from Congress is a law allowing his lawyers to use hearsay evidence - like making one of our military or government's finest, testify about something someone else told them - to convict these men they tortured, and possibly have them executed. You'll take the government and military's word for it all. . . won't you?

That's the likely effect of the Obama administration's new court-dodging construction. The prisoners the Bush administration approved the torture of had to be coughed up from CIA custody, after the Supreme Court ruling that military commissions must be explicitly authorized by Congress. The new decision will merely put these prisoners in a roomful of military actors posing as counsels and advocates for the prosecution and the defense. The military and others have tortured them pretty severely after dragging them through the CIA's wild rendition tour - definitely illegal - and, they can't risk any of that coming out in any actual trial discovery. Bush wanted a closed 'trial' where 'evidence' would be presented in secret, without the ones we tortured (or their 'lawyers') having access to any of it; whatever there is of it. The Obama administration looks to want the same advantage.

Moreover, the primary effect of keeping the testimony of these prisoners out of open court is to suppress any evidence or testimony presented by the prisoners of torture of abuse which led to any of the 'confessions' that the U.S. is relying on to ultimately convict them or keep them in detention. Bush wanted from Congress legislation that would make everything he did in his terror war - every law he's broken, every individual he's ordered abused, every individual he's ordered detained indefinitely without charges, every cover-up and hiding of 'evidence' he's authorized - completely and retroactively legal. That way Bush would be able to continue on with impunity. That way, he'd be able to keep his main political props in place at Gitmo as a hedge against his failure to follow through on capturing the 9-11 perpetrators identified in the military force authorization he claimed gave him the power to ignore laws and the will of Congress.

The Obama administration has mirrored the Bush efforts in the defense of their own ongoing, escalated military build-up and activity in Afghanistan which is undoubtedly adding to the numbers of detainees at Bagram. Also, as a result of the disruption of the Bush administration's covert rendition program, caused by the change in the White House, there have been moves to transfer prisoners from the black holes of secret CIA prisons, to Bagram, and a plan to transfer prisoners to Afghanistan keep them away from any precipitating moves at Gitmo which would provide rights and accountability to those detained there. The decision to allow prisoners access to an administrative review panel of military officers looks to be the same sham that Bush provided at Gitmo, with no opportunity provided prisoners to actually see the charges against them, review evidence, or even present witnesses.

The new constructions are a mere pretense of justice for those detained, much like the pretense of democracy that our military is promoting and defending in their dual occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was an inexcusable political ploy for Bush to hold these Afghans and Arabs in his prisons - indefinitely, without charges - as substitutes for his inability to capture the perpetrators our government says are directly responsible for the 9-11 attacks: bin-Laden, and his accomplices. It's also an inexcusable political ploy for this administration to represent these administrative changes in their immoral detention policy as anything more than window dressing on their own flailing attempts to translate Bush's tyranny into their own anti-democratic terror war.


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Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price
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