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Guantanamo Bay is only the symptom of a sickness: indefinite detention

By       Message Trevor Timm     Permalink
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Reprinted from The Guardian

President Obama wants to close Guantanamo. But unless he ends the policy of indefinite detention, its shameful spirit will live on

Obama Rolls Out Plan To Close Guantanamo Prison
Obama Rolls Out Plan To Close Guantanamo Prison
(Image by The Young Turks, Channel: TheYoungTurks)
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Guantanamo has been a pockmark on our society ever since it opened. The detention facility itself is a human rights abomination, but it's not just the physical center that is a problem -- it is the spirit it embodies. The policy of indefinite detention in Gitmo makes a mockery of the US constitution. That's why, as Barack Obama makes his latest impassioned and forceful plea to close it once and for all, it is shameful that he is leaving in place the practices that enabled it to flourish in the first place.

It's unlikely that Guantanamo will actually be closed by the time Obama leaves office, given the half measures and hesitations in his first term that allowed Congress to throw up legal roadblocks to transferring prisoners to the US. But, even if Obama succeeds, that won't be the end of this dark chapter in US history. As long as the unconstitutional policy of indefinite detention and the disastrous military commissions remain, so too will the stain on America's reputation.

Indefinite detention -- holding detainees for what is now decades with no trial or even charges of any kind on the horizon -- is about as antithetical to American values and the constitution as it gets. There are dozens of detainees that are cleared for release now -- and have been cleared for release for years -- that still remain behind bars on the US military base in Cuba. But there are dozens more that the US considers "unfit for trial" but "too dangerous to release." (Many of them can't be tried because the US tortured them.)

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Obama made clear at the end of his remarks that indefinite detention remains US policy. As long as the post-9/11 Authorization for Military Force (AUMF) remains active, the US government acts like it can hold these prisoners forever. And as the administration now claims the bill is the legal authority that lets it bomb Syria, Iraq and now Libya -- fighting a terrorist organization that did not exist on 9/11 and for which there is no end -- there is virtually no chance of the legislation being repealed this decade. These prisoners possibly face spending the rest of their lives in jail without seeing trial.

As for the rest of the prisoners who can and should face trial, they remain marred in the disastrous military commissions trial system, which has been plagued with problem after problem for more than a decade. This has left them all but unworkable, and in many cases, unconstitutional. The president, while criticizing the military commissions and explaining how normal federal courts are much more effective in actually trying terrorists, remains stubbornly insistent that the commissions can still work -- as long as Congress alters them yet again.
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How Obama is going to get a Republican-controlled Congress to pass anything in this election year he did not explain, but it sounds like just as big of a fantasy as getting a new US supreme court nominee through the Senate in the same time frame. The military commissions should've been scrapped years ago, and will continue to haunt whatever administration is voted into office this November.

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http://pressfreedomfoundation.org

Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and lawyer who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He has contributed to  The (more...)
 

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