THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Will Obama Wuss Out on Gitmo?

Prez-Elect May Ratify Bush’s Torture Trials

The accused terrorist appeared before the military tribunal, charged with conspiracy in a plot against national security. Because state secrets were involved and because harsh interrogation techniques were used to extract information, the defendant was deprived of a look at the evidence. Also denied were the defendant’s traditional right to a lawyer, to face accusers, even to see the judges–they wore hoods.

No, this wasn’t at Gitmo. This “court” met in the military dictatorship of Peru. And the defendant wasn’t an Afghan or Arab turned over to U.S. troops by a warlord out for the $10,000 bounty. She was Lori Berenson, a 31-year-old American citizen accused of aiding the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, members of whom she befriended.

The Washington Post and New York Times condemned Berenson’s 1996 trial, calling the tribunal and the brutal circumstances of her detention a mockery of justice. In the U.S., most American liberals agreed.

Now President-Elect Barack Obama–a self-identified liberal Democrat who campaigned as a champion of human rights–wants to use the same kind of kangaroo court to try victims of the notorious Guantánamo torture camp.

Obama’s advisers confirm that the incoming president wants to close Gitmo. It’s long overdue. But they deny that they’ve made a final decision about what to do with the detainees. (There’s no word about the secret prisons, Navy prison ships or CIA black sites where thousands of Muslim men kidnapped by the U.S. have been “disappeared.”) However, there’s troubling evidence that Obama is reneging on his promise to do the right thing by the long-suffering detainees.

Insiders say that Obama is leaning toward the creation of “national security courts”–secret military tribunals where detainees would be tried without basic due process rights. They wouldn’t get the right to review evidence against them, cross-examine prosecution witnesses, or—obviously, at this point–a speedy trial. Moreover, Obama hasn’t ruled out subjecting future detainees to “preventive detention”–i.e., holding them without charges, like Bush.

“The legal team advising Mr. Obama on Guantánamo believes that prosecuting the ‘high value’ terror suspects such as [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed–a group of about 30–will require the creation of a court designed to handle highly sensitive intelligence material, a cross between a military tribunal and a federal court,” reports The Times of London.

“What a national security court is designed for is to hide the use of torture and allow the consideration of evidence that is not reliable,” says J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents some of the detainees.

Of the 255 prisoners, about 60 have been cleared for release but remain at the base because their home countries, including China, view them as political enemies and might execute them. Of the remaining 195, the Pentagon admits that there’s no evidence whatsoever against 135. Obama’s team doesn’t know what to do about these 195 misérables.

That leaves 80 men, including the 30 “stars” like KSM, the alleged 9/11 mastermind. “If Obama wanted to move as swiftly as possible to close Guantánamo,” reports Time magazine, “the strongest step he could take as president would be to simply shutter the camp by executive order and transfer all of the detainees to prison sites inside the U.S. At that point, in theory, the detainees would face four possible fates: being charged with offenses that could be tried in federal courts; court-marshaled according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice; turned over to the governments of their native countries; or simply released.”

Courts-marshal of the detainees, who were dumped in Gitmo’s supposed legal limbo specifically in order to deny them POW status and Geneva Conventions rights, would be bizarre. As discussed above, many can’t go home. Moreover most, if not all, of the high-profile detainees were tortured–a fact that would almost certainly destroy any chance of obtaining a conviction in a fair trial.

You can’t hold a fair trial after holding a suspect for years while depriving them of access to a lawyer, family visits, or the ability to prepare for trial. The Founding Fathers understood this fact, which is why they ratified the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,” reads the Sixth. A secret “national security court” held six years after “arrest” doesn’t come anywhere close to satisfying this requirement.

Municipalities’ interpretation of the Sixth Amendment varies. In New York City, cops have to bring you before a judge for arraignment within 24 hours of your arrest, or let you go. Other places allow a few days. Six years? Not even in Texas.

There’s only one valid legal and moral option for rectifying the human rights nightmare at Guantánamo. On January 20, President Obama should fly to Gitmo, address its inmates and personally apologize to each one for the abuses and indignities they have suffered, and which have brought shame and contempt upon the United States.

The detainees should be set free. They should be paid enough money that they should never want for anything again, then offered the right to fly home or, if they prefer, anywhere in the U.S. Finally, Obama should walk out the camp’s main entrance to Palma Point, where he should sign over control of the base to Cuban President Raoul Castro.



18 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Will Obama Wuss Out on Gitmo?”

  1. Anonymous Says:


  2. Andy Says:

    I had the same thought about the personal apology except I’d do it on the white house lawn. Everything else is spot on except I wouldn’t give the base back to the cubans. Why should we do that??? TR deserves more than national parks in his legacy! Anyway I’m sure that base was doing something useful before it was a prison and if we ever decide to revive that platt amendment it will be useful again MWAHAHAHA

  3. The Reverend Mr. Smith Says:

    I’m not holding my breath.

    Also, guys, it’s court martial. Standards!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    even KSM?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Our first African American president is alot like Bush.

    Didn’t Dave Chapelle do a skit about this?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Right! Remember how quickly Bill Clinton flip-flopped on ‘Don’t Ask- Don’t Tell?’ Apples and Oranges? Not really. In both cases, certain human beings, due to circumstances beyond their control, or just plain bad luck, are given a less-than-human status by the bullying power that entraped and imprisoned them. If the prisoners were set ‘free’ in the USA, does anyone doubt they would have to register the way the sex offenders do? I think Obama’s going to wimp out on this one, and more. A sick, incompetent, cowardly, business-as-usual, PROFITABLE bad government has a momentum that can’t be matched by 100 good governments with positive, progressive, taxpayer-funded programs. It’s just in our human, Democratic, ‘Christian’ nature to label a group or groups so that there will always be whipping boys/girls and scapegoats when the tasks get too difficult, when politicians don’t have the BALLS to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. It’s so much easier to build cages for political prisoners and hire closeted sadists to keep the prisoners in line. Count George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as two of the USA’s prominent sadists. Their skivvies have yellow stains that won’t come out with the toughest stain removers due to the number of times they shot their wads over ‘shock and awe’ moments and the torture of innocents. If Obama doesn’t stop the madness instituted by Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld/etc., we remain doomed.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Great column, Ted!

  8. Angelo Says:

    I liked your original idea of just shooting them all (the detainees).

    Until Obama takes action to regulate and censor the news media, he has no chance even if he does what needs to be done in all categories.

    If he does not have satellites in space shooting brainwash waves at his opponents, he is doomed.

    that is how ridiculous things have gotten. That is how far reality has been folded onto itself…

  9. Anonymous Says:

    “Our first African American president is alot like Bush.”

    I agree. Let’s not forget how he decided not to pull out of Iraq after all, or do anything he said he would, and then invaded Iran instead.

    Damn that Obama!

  10. Ted Rall Says:

    Yes, even KSM.

    As far as we know, he’s not guilty of anything. All we know is that the government–the Bushies–told the media he was a mastermind of the 9/11 plot. But who cares what they say?

    Where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence? Where’s the trial–the real trial, where defendants have all their rights?

    It’s a little disturbing that anyone takes Bush at his word about anything, especially everything that has happened.

  11. Angelo Says:

    All we know is that the government–the Bushies–told the media he was a mastermind of the 9/11 plot. But who cares what they say?

    I will add that even if KSM himself brags about having done it, it does NOT mean he did. It is called “claiming credit”. Numerous groups do it after large attacks, for reasons that should be obvious.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Well, at least I didn’t vote for Obama. McCain was a continuation of the status quo, but at least I knew what I was getting.

    With Obama. Who knows!?

  13. Angelo Says:

    McCain was a continuation of the status quo, but at least I knew what I was getting.

    The status quo is not going anywhere

  14. Anonymous Says:

    What is the big obstacle in trying these suspected terrorists the same way they try suspected mafia dons? You have witnesses who rightly fear for their lives if they testify, so why can’t a similar type of trial be done in the US?

  15. Incitatus Says:

    Here’s hoping Obama shuts down Guantanamo, so that there is only one political prison left on the island: the rest of it.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    You know, I don’t get where anybody without American citizenship is really entitled to any of the rights guaranteed. They don’t have these rights in their home countries, why should they have them here? For teh 135 or so you spoke about I’m all for letting them go… somewhere. Guaranteed US residency? Payoff so they never have to work again? Nope. People wrongly convicted in prison don’t have that option, why should these people? Torture? Yes, they could expect that where they are from too. I agree its unfortunate how they’ve been treated but in so far as they are political outcasts from their home countries… not our problem. You wanna payoff? Give em minimum wage for their time incarcerated. No country wants em? Here’s a boat… good luck. Fact remains, no matter how much we’ve wronged them, even if we gave them millions of dollars they will NEVER forgive us. Ever. I wouldn’t. Every coin you give them will be donated to organizations that oppose us. Turn them loose, or offer them assisted suicide.

  17. Incitatus Says:

    Obligatory nitpicking: your arithmetic is a little off (195-135=80??); the current Cuban Dictator in Chief’s name is Raúl Castro, not Raoul.

  18. grouchy Says:

    Obama says, “the United States does not torture.” Funny, Bush has been saying the same thing for the past five years or so. The U.S. does torture. We don’t need another platitude spouting president. We need a president who acknowledges the crimes committed, apologies to the world, and pursues real justice. And that means bringing the Bush administration to trial for crimes against humanity.

    The first step in addressing the shameful crimes of the “War on Terror” is acknowledgment. There’s a lot a blame to go around (including 1/2 of the electorate and plenty of Dems in Congress), and anyone who is particularly proud of being an American right now is a sick prick. Mr. Obama, with respect: shut the fuck up! America does torture.

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