Gitmo Show Trials

Hillary Said Appoint a Gitmo Champion; The Opposite Happened

There’s a weird detail in this Daniel Klaidman piece on Obama’s claimed newfound commitment to closing Gitmo.

One of the new details in it describes a memo Hillary Clinton wrote just before she left the State Department.

One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who, just before she left office in January 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantánamo.

[snip]

Now, in one of her last moves as secretary of State, she was making a final effort to prod her boss to do more. Her memo was replete with practical suggestions for moving ahead on Gitmo. Chief among them: Obama needed to appoint a high-level official to be in charge of the effort, someone who had clout and proximity to the Oval Office. Further, Clinton argued that Obama could start transferring the 86 detainees who’d already been cleared for release. (Congress has imposed onerous restrictions on the administration’s ability to transfer Gitmo detainees—including a stipulation that the secretary of Defense certify that detainees sent to other countries would not engage in acts of terrorism. In her memo, Clinton pointed out that the administration could use “national-security waivers” to circumvent the restriction.)

The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot, according to a senior administration official. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence that it spurred him to action.

I thought to myself as I read this, “but Clinton’s departure is precisely when the Administration moved backwards on this front, by reassigning Daniel Fried, who had been in charge of resettling detainees.” Fried’s reassignment was reported January 29. That was technically while Hillary was still at State — Kerry took over on February 1.

Still, whoever transferred Fried, she must have written that memo (which pissed off Obama’s minders) at almost precisely the moment State eliminated the person most focused on working towards Gitmo closure.

Klaidman doesn’t entirely ignore this detail. Six paragraphs later he mentions the transfer.

For much of the past few years, without any signal that Obama was going to fight on Gitmo, the policy drifted. Daniel Fried, the veteran State Department official in charge of resettling detainees, was transferred to a different position.

Still, there must be a story explaining why Fried got transferred at precisely the moment Hillary, technically still his boss, was calling to redouble the effort to close Gitmo.

Harold Koh Relitigates the Argument He Already Lost

The NYT thinks the takeaway “news” of Harold Koh’s speech on Forever War is his call for more transparency on drone killing. Yet that Koh supports more transparency on drones is not news. Daniel Klaidman has been reporting that since January 2012.

What’s newsworthy about this call for transparency, though, is how shrill it is.

But since then, to be candid, this Administration has not done enough to be transparent about legal standards and the decisionmaking process that it has been applying. It had not been sufficiently transparent to the media, to Congress, and to our allies. Because the Administration has been so opaque, a left-right coalition running from Code Pink to Rand Paul has now spoken out against the drone program, fostering a growing perception that the program is not lawful and necessary, but illegal, unnecessary and out of control. The Administration must take responsibility for this failure, because its persistent and counterproductive lack of transparency has led to the release of necessary pieces of its public legal defense too little and too late.

As a result, the public has increasingly lost track of the real issue, which is not drone technology per se, but the need for transparent, agreedupon domestic and international legal process and standards.

Perhaps this shrillness is why Koh ends the speech with a grandiose invocation of our “better angels.”

Because I am an American who loves his country, I have served it for ten years of my professional career. My former professor and former Legal Adviser Abram Chayes once said, after he had sued the United States government from the academy, “I have always thought there is nothing wrong with an American lawyer holding the United States to its own best standards.” It is in that spirit that tonight, from this important podium, I call my country to its own best values and principles. As President Lincoln famously said, there is still time–indeed, it is high time– for Americans once again to answer to the “better angels” of our national nature.

Though it should be noted that Attorney Abe Lincoln appealed for us to answer to our better angels at the beginning of his service in the Executive Branch, not after he had left that position of influence (something John Wilkes Booth prevented in any case). Why is Harold Koh saying this now?

After all, this battle, the battles for transparency, for “discipline” in the drone program, and for closing Gitmo, are all battles he fought and lost while he was still in government.

It’s how Koh relitigates the last of those battles, closing Gitmo, I find most interesting. He calls for the appointment of a Greg Craig type to implement the plan Craig tried to implement himself in the first year of the Obama Administration.

First, and foremost, he must appoint a senior White House official with the clout and commitment to actually make Guantanamo closure happen. There has not been such a person at the White House since Greg Craig left as White House Counsel in early 2010. There must be someone close to the President, with a broad enough mandate and directly answerable to him, who wakes up each morning thinking about how to shrink the Guantanamo population and close the camp.

Second, this White House Envoy need not develop a new paradigm for closing Guantanamo. He or she merely needs to implement the National Archives framework that the President announced three years ago. The White House Envoy should lead the Administration’s efforts to implement the three-part framework for closure of the Guantanamo detention facility specified in the President’s 2010 speech at the National Archives. That speech described a framework for how this closure could happen: through diplomatic transfers of those individuals who could be safely transferred, prosecution of those who can be tried before civilian courts when possible and military commissions where that is the only option, and third, by commencing the long-overdue legally mandated periodic review of so-called Law of War Detainees to see if any can be released, because of changes either in their attitude or in the conditions of the country to which they could be transferred.

Now, I’m all in favor of closing Gitmo and this might be one way to do it. Koh actually improves on the prior plan by admitting the indefinite detainees will have to be released as the war is over, which is legally correct but misapprehends why they’re not being released and why we have to have a Forever War to justify keeping them silent and imprisoned forever.

But Koh’s map for closing Gitmo also misrepresents why appointing Greg Craig himself to carry out the Gitmo task didn’t work. Continue reading

ICRC President Visits Obama, Brennan, Hagel Regarding “International Humanitarian Law”

ICRC President Peter Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

ICRC President Peter Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, yesterday completed four days of meetings with US officials in Washington. According to the blog site for the ICRC, Maurer met with President Barack Obama, senior members of Congress and a number of high-ranking government figures, including “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.”

It is perhaps not surprising that since there is a widespread hunger strike at Guantanamo (and since the ICRC visited Guantanamo earlier this month), detention issues were high on the list of topics for the meetings:

A focus of Mr Maurer’s visit was detention-related matters. “The United States, including its Congress, must urgently find a way to resolve all pending humanitarian, legal and policy issues relating to the detention of persons held at Guantanamo Bay, including those deemed to no longer represent a threat that justifies their continued detention there,” said Mr Maurer.

But Guantanamo was not the only topic. It comes as a welcome development to me that Maurer would widen the scope of discussion with key figures such as Obama, Brennan and Hagel to remind them of their duties under international humanitarian law:

“We enjoy a robust and multi-faceted dialogue with the United States, and my visit was an opportunity to discuss issues and contexts of mutual concern such as Syria and Afghanistan,” said Mr Maurer. “The United States values the mandate, positions and input of the ICRC and I am confident that this interaction will continue to bring concrete results, notably in terms of implementation of and respect for international humanitarian law in current and future battlefields.”

Especially when it comes to Obama and Brennan, it is striking that this statement can be construed as saying that the US needs to implement international humanitarian laws and to respect them. Although not stated outright, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than to believe that the ICRC now believes that the US does not abide by international humanitarian law. I would think that the US practice of targeted killings, which is viewed by the UN as an issue for international law (and where the UN has called “double tap” drone strikes war crimes) would likely have been a topic for Maurer when talking with Brennan, who has played a key role in ordering drone strikes.

Sadly, I don’t share the ICRC’s optimism regarding our government’s respect for the “mandate, positions and input of the ICRC”. We need look no further than the sad news out of Guantanamo yesterday where it now appears that hundreds of thousands of confidential files and communications belonging to Guantanamo defense lawyers have been provided to the prosecution. In addition, a number of key files seem to have disappeared. From Carol Rosenberg: Continue reading

Fifth Terrorist Detainee Brought into Civilian Courts

This is getting to be a trend.

A six-count indictment was unsealed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, also known as “Spin Ghul,” with conspiracy to murder American military personnel in Afghanistan, conspiracy to bomb American diplomatic facilities in Nigeria, conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda, providing material support to al Qaeda, and related firearms and explosives counts. The indictment was returned under seal by a federal grand jury sitting in Brooklyn, New York on February 21, 2012, and relates to Harun’s alleged activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa beginning in 2001.

[snip]

According to court documents, Harun, who was born in Saudi Arabia but claims citizenship in Niger, was extradited from Italy to the United States on October 4, 2012, and arraigned in a sealed proceeding in federal court in Brooklyn, New York on October 5, 2012.

With the three Somalis rendered to the US in November and arraigned in December, and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Abu Ghaith a few weeks ago, this makes 5 al Qaeda/Shabaab associates brought into the civilian court system in defiance of the 2012 NDAA.

All involve a period of pre-detention either here or abroad (or both), followed by processing in the civilian courts.

We’ll see how this approach works out (Ghaith’s charges, in particular, may be interesting ones to try, though he is after all OBL’s relative, so I assume he’ll be convicted regardless). But for now, it seems the Administration is just going to blow off Congress’ demands for military detention.

The Kangaroo Court Unplugged

Carol Rosenberg, Jason Leopold, Charlie Savage, and Ryan Reilly all have updates on the Gitmo Military Commission’s efforts to pretend they control the proceedings of the court room, and not someone like John Brennan or the CIA.

All of them note that Judge James Pohl promised that Monday’s censorship won’t happen again. Savage adds an interesting detail: the suggestion that the censorship represented a disagreement between the Military Commission and the censor–presumed to be the CIA.

“This is the last time,” Colonel Pohl said, that any party other than a security officer inside the courtroom who works for the commission “will be permitted to unilaterally decide that the broadcast will be suspended.”

He added that while some legal rules and precedents governing the military commissions were unclear, there was no doubt that only he, as the judge, had the authority to close the courtroom. While officials may disagree about whether classified information had been improperly disclosed, he made clear he would not tolerate any outside party having control over a censorship button in his case.

“The commission will not permit any entity except the court security officer to suspend the broadcast of the proceeding,” Colonel Pohl said. “Accordingly I order the government to disconnect any ability of a third party to suspend broadcast of the proceeding, and I order any third party not to suspend proceedings.” [my emphasis]

This actually raises an interesting parallel with Article III Courts. There, DOJ has repeatedly insisted that courts have no authority to determine what is classified or not. On rare occasions, a Court will overrule the government.

This conflict appears to arisen from the same kind of disagreement, one made stark because of the censorship button. But ultimately, the Executive Branch was again insisting that only it can say, legally, what counts as classified.

Rosenberg raises a parallel issue: claims by DOJ lawyer Joanna Baltes, who oversees classification issues, that the Original Classification Authority in question was part of the Military Commissions. Pohl disagrees.

“An OCA does not work for the commission,” he said, the Pentagon term for the war court, “and has no independent decision-making authority on how these proceedings are to be conducted.” On Tuesday, civilian 9/11 prosecutor Joanna Baltes cast the role of the OCA as an approved extension of the military commissions.

“The OCA, original classification authority, reviews closed-circuit feed of the proceedings to conduct a classification review to ensure that classified information is not inadvertently disclosed,” she said in a note to the judge. “When the parties do press the mute button on the microphone, no audio is transmitted through the closed feed.”

Rosenberg raises one more important point: CIA screwed up during one of the first moments that the 40-second delay ordered by Pohl was in place.

Monday’s outside censorship episode occurred on the first day of proceedings after the judge formally approved the 40-second audio delay in the Sept. 11 trial, rejecting an American Civil Liberties Union argument that it transformed a live court into a “censorship chamber.”

Boy, the CIA sure wasted no time in validating the ACLU’s concerns?

As Reilly lays out, the incident has only raised the concerns of the Defense Attorneys.

“Who is pulling the strings? Who is the master of puppets? We have more questions than we have answers,” said Walter Ruiz, an attorney for Mustafa al Hawsawi, an alleged al Qaeda money courier.

David Nevin, a lawyer for KSM, said it would “open a number of questions” if indeed someone based in the U.S. had the ability to cut off the feed of the courtroom facility. Martins had declined to say whether the secret censor was based either in the U.S. or was located somewhere on Guantanamo Navy Base.

James Harrington, a lawyer for Ramzi Binalshibh, said a federal judge would have never put up with someone else having the ability to cut off access to his courtroom.

“I have been practicing for over 40 years in federal courts in the United States, if this had happened before any federal judge that I know of, this proceeding would have been stopped. There would have been hell to pay. Hell to pay,” Harrington said.

It’s going to be very hard to unring this bell, not matter how assiduously General Mark Martins tries to establish its independence (and last week’s fight over the inclusion of conspiracy charges had already damaged that).

John Brennan’s Kangaroo Court

Congratulations to Barack Obama, whose invisible hand censor has made Gitmo even more of a kangaroo court than it was under Bush.

As Jim laid out, over the last two days of Gitmo hearings, we saw (thanks to livetweeters like Carol Rosenberg, Jason Leopold, and Daphne Eviatar) someone improperly cut the feed from the court room to the journalists for 3 minutes, just as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyer, David Nevin, started to read from his unclassified motion to preserve the black sites. After it happened, Judge James Pohl was rather angry about what he saw as an improper use of the censorship system. Today, it became clear that the OCA–the original classification authority–pressed the censor button, via some AV means that Judge Pohl either didn’t fully understand or want to discuss.

In other words, CIA has ultimate control over his court room.

For the last day, I’ve been predicting that Moral Rectitude Transparency and Assassination Czar John Brennan was responsible for the improper censorship. It was almost certainly some CIA minion Brennan will manage not long after his February 7 confirmation hearing rather than Brennan himself. Though remember–the legal record indicates that the National Security Council, and not CIA, asked to have torture made into a Special Access Program in the first place, though before most of the 9/11 detainees being tried were tortured (the exception, I think, is Ramzi bin al-Shibh). So either John Brennan in his guise as Obama’s NSC counterterrorism advisor or his rising CIA Director–ultimately, it was his portfolio censorsing unclassified information in the trial.

But it’s worth noting that this is the second time in a week that CIA has managed to dictate our legal process. Last Friday, John Kiriakou was sentenced for indirectly revealing to these same defense lawyers the identity of two of their client’s interrogators (one who actually engaged in the torture itself). DOJ originally decided that knowledge, by itself, did not merit charges. But CIA appealed to … John Brennan, and Patrick Fitzgerald was brought in and ultimately Kiriakou was delivered up as an example to cow others who might expose details of the torture program.

And then yesterday, you had a lawfully cleared defense motion being discussed in court, and CIA overruled the determination the trial judge had made, and ensured that journalists could not hear even that unclassified motion. Judge Pohl has deferred the discussion about preserving the black sites as evidence until next month, and it’s not clear whether the defendants or the journalists will be permitted to attend that hearing.

We shall see, next month, whether the CIA has taken over this judicial determination, as they did the judgement on the John Adams Project.

Rather than Close Gitmo, We’ll Just Intercept More Medical Goods for Iran

A lot of people are talking about this story, reporting that the Envoy in charge of shutting down Gitmo will be reassigned.

The State Department on Monday reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him, according to an internal personnel announcement. Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be “assumed” by the office of the department’s legal adviser, the notice said.

The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues aimed at repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the Guantánamo Bay prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.

But few are talking about where Fried is being reassigned: to the sanctions department.

Mr. Fried will become the department’s coordinator for sanctions policy and will work on issues including Iran and Syria.

Granted, both trying to persuade third countries to take detainees and convincing countries to join our ever-intensifying sanctions regime against Iran involve the same skill sets.

Still, as the sanctions against Iran cause increasing difficulties for Iran’s citizens, I think it worth noting how we’ve change our human rights priorities.

Crowd of Unilateral Lawyers Applaud Unilateral Operator

Sarah Cleveland? Not a judge. Greg Craig? Not a judge. William Dodge? Not a judge. Jeh Johnson? Not a judge. David Kris? Not a judge. David Martin? Not a judge. Daniel Meltzer? Not a judge. And Trevor Morrison?

Also not a judge.

Nevertheless, these eight lawyers–all of whom served the function of interpreting the law for the Executive Branch within the Executive Branch for Obama (and, in Kris’ case, for Bush)–assure you that John Brennan will uphold our laws.

Throughout his tenure as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism in the Obama Administration, John Brennan has been a persistent and determined leader in support of adherence to the rule of law, a principled commitment to civil liberties and humanitarian protection, and transparency. On a broad range of issues, he has endeavored to ensure that the national security practices of the United States Government are based on sound long-term policy goals and are consistent with our domestic and international legal obligations, as well as with broader principles of democratic accountability. John Brennan has been a steadfast champion of the President’s commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo, and has urged that our Article III courts remain a vital tool in our counterterrorism toolbox. He has stood firmly with the President’s efforts to ensure that interrogations are conducted in accord with the law and our values. And he has worked to ensure that the responsible and effective pursuit of our counterterrorism objectives will not depend simply on the good instincts of officials, but will instead be institutionalized in durable frameworks with a sound legal basis and broad interagency oversight.

[snip]

John Brennan understands that adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law serve, rather than undermine, our national security interests. Time and again, he has demonstrated seasoned wisdom and judgment in responding to our nation’s greatest national security threats, and he has consistently reaffirmed his core commitment to conducting our national security and counterterrorism policy in a fashion that comports with our deepest values. [my emphasis]

Sure, there are a few tells–such as the boast that his pursuit of counterterrorism objectives will be institutionalized in a broad interagency–not interbranch–oversight. Or, on the reverse, the claim that John Brennan–whose solution to the National Counterterrorism Center’s failure to fulfill minimization requirements was just to open up all Federal databses to NCTC without that minimization–has a “principled commitment to civil liberties.”

But mostly, it’s the structural problem here. Regardless of what John Brennan himself believes–and all the public evidence suggests these lawyers are too close to judge and perhaps just a little seduced by the old spook–this Administration doesn’t stand for any of these things.

More importantly, this Administration has refused just about every opportunity to have someone else–lawyers and judges who hadn’t counseled these policies from the start–weigh these issues. The Administration has shown great disdain for both democratic accountability and Article III courts. It has ensured that interrogations–both those conducted under Bush and those conducted in dark prisons under Obama–never be tested for whether they accord with the law. Indeed, Obama’s Administration has gone to great lengths to hide our torture from international oversight and even from litigants in our own courts.

So even assuming John Brennan is the nice guy these lawyers say he is–an assumption that defies the evidence–they’re still damning Brennan with the same illegitimate argument the Obama Administration has always relied on:

Trust us.

They are emphasizing precisely why John Brennan’s success in an Administration that has refused even basic oversight should not be sufficient for confirmation to lead a secretive agency.

And while in any other week I might be inclined to grant David Kris’ word great weight, not this week. After all, Kris warned we might get into trouble with Hamdan’s material support for terrorism conviction years ago. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration is treating Gitmo with the same Kangaroo arrogance that Bush did, refusing to take the DC Circuit’s ruling on Hamdan as law, overriding their own prosecutor at Gitmo. This Administration–Brennan’s Administration–is defiant of even the warnings Kris offered years ago. So when Kris and other lawyers boast that Brennan will be a great leader consistent with Obama’s policies…

He is also exceptionally qualified to provide leadership and direction to the Agency, consistent with President Obama’s national security objectives.

… It’s shouldn’t exactly count as a glowing endorsement.

Sure, this letter to Dianne Feinstein in support of Brennan’s nomination will work. It’ll provide cover for all the evidence that Brennan is none of these things. At the very least, it’ll force a few Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee to consider whether they’re prepared to admit that Obama’s policies exhibit none of this respect for rule of law. Which they aren’t, yet. So it’ll serve its purpose.

The last actual judge who got a glimpse at the Obama Administration’s claim to abide by the rule of law had this to say:

I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping reasons for their conclusion a secret.

John Brennan is the knave of this Alice in Wonderland system of legal justice.

I take that as a far better read of Brennan’s fitness to be CIA Director than the word of the Queen of Hearts’ other cards up her sleeve.

Update: Conor Friedersdorf does more fact-checking of the claims in the letter.

Another Year, and Another Detainee Killed, But Obama’s Intent Is Still Found in Bagram

Today marks yet another anniversary for our prison in Gitmo. Over the last year, the most notable change has been that–after Obama’s DOJ succeeded in gutting habeas corpus so they could keep Adnan Latif, against whom they had no credible evidence, detained–Latif died under unexplained circumstances. Laura Poitras has a powerful video documenting Latif’s torment to mark today’s anniversary. Jason Leopold also has a story with new details on Latif’s death.

And while I do think the Administration’s willingness to so twist the law to keep Latif is itself witness to Obama’s real intent on indefinite detention, I still think the argument I made last year–that Bagram is the true exhibit of Obama’s fondness for review-free detention–stands. Here’s last year’s Gitmo post in its entirety, with updates below.


On a near daily basis in the last week or so, Jason Leopold has tweeted some quote from the daily White House press briefing in which a journalist asks Jay Carney a question about detention, to which Carney responds by insisting the Administration still intends to close Gitmo.

Q    One other topic.  Wednesday is apparently the 10th anniversary of the prison in Guantanamo Bay, and I’m wondering what the White House says now to critics who point to this as a pretty clear broken promise.  The President had wanted to close that within a year.  That hasn’t happened for a lot of the history that you know of.  And now it’s like there’s really no end in sight.  How do you respond to the criticism that this is just a big, broken promise?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the commitment that the President has to closing Guantanamo Bay is as firm today as it was during the campaign.  We all are aware of the obstacles to getting that done as quickly as the President wanted to get it done, what they were and the fact that they continued to persist.  But the President’s commitment hasn’t changed at all.  And it’s the right thing to do for our national security interests.

That has been an opinion shared not just by this President or members of this administration, but senior members of the military as well as this President’s predecessor and the man he ran against for this office in the general election.  So we will continue to abide by that commitment and work towards its fulfillment.

And that response usually succeeds in shutting the journalist up.

No one has, as far as I know, asked the more general question: “does the Administration plan to get out of the due process-free indefinite detention business?” That question would be a lot harder for Carney to answer–though the answer, of course, is “no, the Administration has no intention of stopping the practice of holding significant numbers of detainees without adequate review.” Rather than reversing the practice started by the Bush Administration, Obama has continued it, even re-accelerated it, expanding our prison at Bagram several times.

That question seems to be absent from discussions about Gitmo’s anniversary, too. Take this debate from the NYT.

Deborah Pearlstein takes solace in her assessment that Gitmo has gotten better over the last decade.

In 2002, detention conditions at the base were often abusive, and for some, torturous. Today, prisoners are generally housed in conditions that meet international standards, and the prison operates under an executive order that appears to have succeeded in prohibiting torture and cruelty. In 2002, the U.S. president asserted exclusive control over the prison, denying the applicability of fundamental laws that would afford its residents even the most basic humanitarian and procedural protections, and rejecting the notion that the courts had any power to constrain executive discretion. Today, all three branches of government are engaged in applying the laws that recognize legal rights in the detainees. Guantánamo once housed close to 800 prisoners, and most outside observers were barred from the base. Today, it holds 171, and independent lawyers, among others, have met with most detainees many times.

But she doesn’t mention that the Administration still operates a prison alleged to be abusive, even torturous, still rejects the notion that courts have any power to constrain executive discretion over that prison. And that prison holds over 3,000 men in it!

Sure, Gitmo has gotten better, but that only serves to distract from the fact that our detention practices–except for the notable fact that we claim to have ended the most physical forms of torture–have not.

David Cole scolds those in Congress who “don’t seem troubled at all about keeping men locked up who the military has said could be released, or about keeping open an institution that jeopardizes our security,” yet doesn’t mention that Bagram does the same. Nor does he note the part of the Administration’s NDAA signing statement that suggested Congress’ salutary effort to expand detainee review would not necessarily apply to Bagram. How can it all be Congress’ fault when Obama isn’t fulfilling the letter of the law providing more meaningful review to those we’re holding at Bagram?

Even the brilliant Vince Warren focuses on the “legal black hole” that is Gitmo, without mentioning the bigger legal black hole that is Bagram.

Among the four participants in the debate, only Eric Posner even mentions Bagram, suggesting that that’s one less optimal alternative to keeping prisoners at Gitmo.

To be sure, there are other options. Detainees could be placed in prison camps on foreign territory controlled by the U.S. military, where they lack access to U.S. courts and security is less certain.

But then Posner misconstrues the issue.

Some critics believe that the whole idea of a war on terror is misconceived, that Congress could not have lawfully declared war on Al Qaeda, and that therefore suspected members of Al Qaeda cannot be detained indefinitely like enemy soldiers but must either be charged in a court or released. This position has been rejected repeatedly by the courts, but even if it were correct, Guantánamo would remain a legitimate place to detain enemy soldiers picked up on “hot” battlefields wherever they may be now or in the future — places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and maybe soon Iran, to name a few.

There’s a difference between what is legal under international law developed for very different wars and what is just or what is the best way to conduct that war. And the problem with Gitmo (mitigated somewhat over the decade)–and the problem with Bagram, still–is that we’re spending unbelievable amounts of money to detain and abuse people that we haven’t even adequately reviewed to make sure we need to detain them. That’s not a smart way to conduct a war, particularly not one its backers insist will never end, particularly one that depends on our ability to win support among Afghans and other Muslims.

The only thing that was and is problematic about Gitmo that is not also problematic about Bagram is the publicity surrounding it (presumably, though, just here and in Europe–I imagine Afghans, Pakistanis, and al Qaeda members know as much about Bagram as they do about Gitmo). That is, by treating–and allowing the Administration to treat–Gitmo as the problem, rather than due process-free and possibly abusive indefinite detention generally, we’re all acting as if the problem is that people know we’re conducting due process-free indefinite detention, not that we’re doing it at all. Continue reading

The Lawyers that Stayed, the Lawyers that Left

Charlie Savage covers a very troubling development in the case of Ali al-Bahlul, a Yemeni who is serving a life sentence for serving as Al Qaeda’s videographer.

After Hamdan had his conviction vacated by the DC Circuit last year because material support was not a war crime at the time of his support for al Qaeda, Bahlul’s conviction was put in jeopardy too. As Savage earlier reported, there was a debate among the national security lawyers. And in spite of the fact that almost everyone disagreed with Eric Holder on this count, Holder made them press forward anyway.

The Obama administration, after a high-level debate among its legal team, told a federal appeals court on Wednesday that the conviction of a Guantánamo Bay prisoner by a military commission in 2008 was valid even though the charges against him — including “conspiracy” and “material support for terrorism” — were not recognized as war crimes in international law.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. decided to press forward with the case, fighting the appeal of a guilty verdict against the prisoner, a Yemeni man named Ali al-Bahlul. In an unusual move, Mr. Holder overruled the recommendation of the solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who had wanted to drop the case because the appeals court had rejected the same legal arguments in another case several months ago, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.

The chief prosecutor of the military commissions system, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, had also urged the Justice Department to drop the case and pointedly did not sign the 22-page brief to the court on Wednesday. It concedes that the judges must side with Mr. Bahlul at this stage because of the earlier ruling in the other case, but argues that the earlier ruling was wrong.

It sure appears that Eric Holder is just counting on getting the same kind of batshit crazy ruling he got in Latif, so as to sustain his legally unjustified detention.

What’s especially interesting about this, however, is the Kremlinology. Back in early December over the course of two days time, both Jeh Johnson and Harold Koh resigned. It felt very much like a protest, or a refusal to be part of something that struck them as legally unsound (I thought then–as still suspect–it was partly a response to John Brennan’s halt of the effort to put drones on a sound legal footing).

And now we know that around that time, the Attorney General was overriding not just their advice, but that of most of the others involved in this, including the Solicitor General and the Military Commission Chief Prosecutor.

Yesterday’s brief, incidentally, was signed by the Acting Deputy General Counsel at DOD, not Johnson (of course).

So Johnson and Koh are gone. And Eric Holder? The Administration just announced he will stay into the second term. (And, not incidentally, yesterday I floated the suggestion that Lisa Monaco, who sided with Holder on this fight, would be named to replace FBI Director Mueller later this year; a number of smart people suggested that was a smart prediction.)

Update: In the WaPo version of this story, Steve Vladeck suggests that if the government really planned to push forward with an appeal of this to SCOTUS (that is, to reverse the ruling in Hamdan II), the language in the brief would have been stronger.

Incidentally, I wonder yet again about the case of the three Somalis in this context. Is this why they added a conspiracy charge to their indictment, to establish that as a precedent in this situation?

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JimWhiteGNV RT @GatorZoneBB: Who's ready for doubleheader action at McKethan Stadium today? #Gators and Bulldogs start at 3 p.m.
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emptywheel Know what official website's privacy policy I'd like to see? http://t.co/KgvdEeK3OL I Con the Record.
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emptywheel Utterly scathing -- and apt -- quote from Eugene Fidell on Gitmo: http://t.co/DsxpxdVcIZ "Courtroom w/3 benches."
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emptywheel @phillipanderson Must be just as old cause McC and I just got back from our hour walk too. And it's an early 8 here than it is there!
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emptywheel @CasparBowden Suspect it's more like, "we fucked up and don't want to tell you" or "you're safe but have bad friends" @glynmoody
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bmaz @JasonLeopold Is there a detention facility at Coachella? Also, new drone stoke in Yemen tonight. 18 dead. @carwinb @chrisjwoods @lohphat
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bmaz RT @ionacraig: Up to 18 dead in apparent US #drone strike in al-Baydah, #Yemen. Reports of civilians amongst the dead.
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bmaz @banditelli Pretty fucking awesome.
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bmaz Don't worry, they will again very soon because Ken Kendrick sucks RT @DidDbacksLose No @erinscafe
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bmaz RT @AP: http://t.co/36AvJ2kcCB users told to change passwords due to vulnerability to #Heartbleed security bug: http://t.co/3DArbCgNck
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bmaz Whoa did Nico Rosberg screw Alonso's last hot lap by that shunt in the last corner in Q3?
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April 2014
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