In her Gitmo anniversary piece, Dahlia Lithwick, piggybacking on Adam Liptak’s earlier report, used the extensive redactions in the DC Circuit Opinion overturning Adnan Latif’s habeas petition to illustrate how little the courts are telling us about his fate, our detention program, and its impact on the most basic right in this country, habeas corpus.
But in the spirit of the day, I urge you to stop for a moment and look at the decision itself, so heavily redacted that page after page is blacked out completely. The court, in evaluating a secret report on Latif, can tell us very little about the report and thus the whole opinion becomes an exercise in advanced Kafka: The dissent, for instance notes that “As this court acknowledges, “the [district] court cited problems with the report itself including [REDACTED]. … And according to the report there is too high a [REDACTED] in the report for it to have resulted from [REDACTED].” Liptak describes all this as an exercise in “Mad Libs, Gitmo Edition.” But in the end, it’s also an exercise in turning the legal process of assessing the claims of these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay into something that replaces one legal black hole with another: pages and pages of black lines that obscure in words what has been obscured in fact. Americans will never know or care what was done at the camp and why if the legal process that might have transparently corrected errors happens behind blacked-out pages.
Latif’s classified petition for cert has just been filed.
We won’t get to see that petition, though, until after the court redacts it, at which point it will presumably look just like the Circuit Opinion–page after page of black lines.
It’s worth asking who will get to redact that petition, which is after all an important effort not only to free a man cleared for release years ago, but also to restore separation of powers and prevent detainees and Americans alike from being held solely on the basis of an inaccurate intelligence report.
That’s important because, thus far, the existing court documents in this case have been redacted inconsistently.
We know that because the dissent in the Circuit Opinion quotes language from Judge Henry Kennedy’s ruling, yet that language doesn’t appear anywhere in the unredacted sections of his ruling itself. For example, David Tatel refers to the “factual errors” Kennedy described (21; PDF 88) and cites Kennedy’s repetition of Latif’s explanation for having lost his passport–he “gave it to Ibrahim [Alawi] to use in arranging his stay at a hospital.” (37; PDF 104) Yet the appearances of these phrases have been entirely redacted from Kennedy’s opinion (there are many more fragments for which the same is true, supporting general claims about the inaccuracy of the report, but they are less specific).
The Gray Lady is dedicating space this week to reflections on Gitmo. In addition to a debate on it (more on that tomorrow), it offered Lakhdar Boumediene and Murat Kurnaz space to tell their stories, albeit in the opinion section.
Both men told of their terrible treatment.
But both also discussed what they learned about American rule of law by being falsely imprisoned for years.
Boumediene describing losing faith in American justice, which not even the knowledge that the case bearing his name is taught in American law schools has yet returned, given the number of men who remain unjustly imprisoned.
The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.
I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal.
About 90 prisoners have been cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo. Some of them are from countries like Syria or China — where they would face torture if sent home — or Yemen, which the United States considers unstable. And so they sit as captives, with no end in sight — not because they are dangerous, not because they attacked America, but because the stigma of Guantánamo means they have no place to go, and America will not give a home to even one of them.
I’m told that my Supreme Court case is now read in law schools. Perhaps one day that will give me satisfaction, but so long as Guantánamo stays open and innocent men remain there, my thoughts will be with those left behind in that place of suffering and injustice. [my emphasis]
Kurnaz describes watching Germans, upon his return, teaching Americans about something once renewed in Germany by the Nuremberg trials: the rule of law.
I LEFT Guantánamo Bay much as I had arrived almost five years earlier — shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, and ankles to a bolt on the airplane floor. My ears and eyes were goggled, my head hooded, and even though I was the only detainee on the flight this time, I was drugged and guarded by at least 10 soldiers. This time though, my jumpsuit was American denim rather than Guantánamo orange. I later learned that my C-17 military flight from Guantánamo to Ramstein Air Base in my home country, Germany, cost more than $1 million.
When we landed, the American officers unshackled me before they handed me over to a delegation of German officials. The American officer offered to re-shackle my wrists with a fresh, plastic pair. But the commanding German officer strongly refused: “He has committed no crime; here, he is a free man.”
I was not a strong secondary school student in Bremen, but I remember learning that after World War II, the Americans insisted on a trial for war criminals at Nuremberg, and that event helped turn Germany into a democratic country.Strange, I thought, as I stood on the tarmac watching the Germans teach the Americans a basic lesson about the rule of law. [my emphasis]
Gitmo has come to embody many things in this country over the last decade: Bush’s incompetence and criminality, our bigotry and inhumanity, and–as most would like to treat it now–a big political tussle between Obama and Republicans.
But at every turn–from the Bush Administration grasping claiming the piece of land existed outside the rule of law, to the corrupt legal process that created memos authorizing torture there, to Jim Haynes’ insistence that “we can’t have acquittals,” to the DC Circuit’s continued efforts to make sure detainees get no meaningful review of their detention–Gitmo has been about shedding the rule of law. It has been about finding ways for America to defy the law even while maintaining the pretense we still uphold it.
In this country, we have mostly ignored that lesson of Gitmo (not liking what it says about us, I guess). But it’s a lesson our former captives know well.
Kagro X and I were engaging in a little thought experiment on Twitter to show how easy it would be to solve our dangerous bankster problem by indefinitely detaining them.
It turned out to be pretty easy to do. Here’s how.
First, before you indefinitely detain a bankster, you need to show either that he is,
A person who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
another international terrorist group that the President has determined both (a) is in armed conflict with the United States and (b) poses a threat of hostile actions within the United States;
Now, making that case with Jamie Dimon is very easy to do, because his company, JP Morgan Chase, has materially helped Iran. We have several pieces of proof it has done so. First, there’s the Treasury Report showing that JPMC:
We need no further proof that JPMC has done these things. Not only has JPMC admitted to them, but as Janice Rogers Brown has made clear, we cannot question the Executive Branch’s intelligence reports, so all of OFAC’s claims must be accepted as true for the purposes of indefinite detention. And all of that illegal support for Iran happened while Jamie Dimon was President of JPMC.
But there may even be proof–enough, anyway, to satisfy Rogers Brown–that JPMC materially supported an attempt to deploy a WMD in a terrorist attack on American soil. As I have shown, the bank account to which Manssor Arbabsiar transferred almost $100,000 as downpayment for the alleged Quds Force plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir was probably a Chase account. And that affidavit should be enough. The FBI, after all, is an intelligence agency. And Janice Rogers Brown does not find redactions–even much more extensive ones–to in any way impair the reliability of Administration claims to justify indefinite detention.
In other words, the Administration has provided sufficient proof that JPMC materially supported Iran to the tune of at least $23 million in illegal financial transactions.
Now, if Chase is indeed the bank that accepted the downpayment for the Scary Iran Plot, we need no further basis to indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon. After all, the government’s Amended Complaint (from the FBI, an intelligence agency whose reports we cannot question) asserts that Abdul Reza Shahlai was the mastermind behind the Scary Iran Plot, and at the time of the plot, he had already been sanctioned as a supporter of the insurgency in Iraq. That was based on a questionable intelligence report, admittedly, but Janice Rogers Brown says we cannot consider such problems. So if Chase did, indeed, play a role in the Scary Iran Plot, then that’s all we need to indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon as head of the entity that materially supported that terrorist attack.
But even if Chase wasn’t involved in the Scary Iran Plot, the Executive Branch can still indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon. After all, the Executive Branch has been claiming that Iran was harboring al Qaeda since 2003. In addition, an official Executive Branch report–a September 12, 2009 diplomatic cable–includes the following hearsay claim, made by Saudi Arabia’s then Minister of the Interior, now the Crown Prince, Nayif bin Abdulaziz:
Iran has hosted Saudis (all Sunnis) — including Osama bin Laden’s son Ibrahim — who had contacts with terrorists and worked against [Saudi Arabia]
And Janice Rogers Brown has said that so long as it appears in an official government document, any hearsay problem is overcome. And as recent reporting makes clear, there’s even some evidence that Iran was at least aware of, and in some ways facilitated, the 9/11 plot itself. That assertion is based on NSA reports which, as official government documents, would meet Rogers Brown’s standard for claims supporting indefinite detention.
All of which would seem to reach the bar of making Iran a force associated with al Qaeda. I don’t necessarily buy these reports, mind you, but again, it’s not for me to question these official government records. And helping such an associated force access $23 million of funding sure seems to qualify as “substantial support.”
Now let me be clear. I don’t advocate indefinitely detaining Jamie Dimon–or anyone else either, particularly not American citizens, no matter how loathsome or dangerous to the United States. But given that our country maintains it is more important to “incapacitate” terrorists and those who support them than to punish those who did trillions of dollars of damage to our economy, we may well have to treat Jamie Dimon as a material supporter of terrorism to get some justice.
And Jamie? If I were you I would report to an Embassy or some other official government office right away, as the government claims Anwar al-Awlaki should have. Because while Obama seems uninterested in indefinitely detaining American citizens, he has been known to kill those he claimed were particularly dangerous.
As I’ve said before, I think Carl Levin’s assurances that habeas corpus will prevent the Executive from holding people without cause under his new detainee provisions (and, frankly, under the status quo) is dangerously naive, because it ignores how badly the DC Circuit has gutted habeas.
Mr. GRAHAM. If someone is picked up as a suspected enemy combatant under this narrow window, not only does the executive branch get to determine how best to do that–do you agree with me that, in this war, that every person picked up as an enemy combatant–citizen or not–here in the United States goes before a Federal judge, and our government has to prove to an independent judiciary outside the executive branch by a preponderance of the evidence that you are who we say you are and that you have fit in this narrow window? That if you are worried about some abuse of this, we have got a check and balance where the judiciary, under the law that we have created, has an independent review obligation to determine whether the executive branch has abused their power, and that decision can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court?
Mr. LEVIN. That guarantee is called habeas corpus. It has been in our law. It is untouched by anything in this bill. Quite the opposite; we actually enhance the procedures here.
Mr. GRAHAM. In this case where somebody is worried about being picked up by a rogue executive branch because they went to the wrong political rally, they don’t have to worry very long, because our Federal courts have the right and the obligation to make sure the government proves their case that you are a member of al-Qaida and didn’t go to a political rally. That has never happened in any other war. That is a check and balance here in this war. And let me tell you why it is necessary.
This is a war without end. There will never be a surrender ceremony signing on the USS Missouri. So what we have done, knowing that an enemy combatant determination could be a de facto life sentence, is we are requiring the courts to look over the military’s shoulder to create checks and balances. Quite frankly, I think that is a good accommodation.
I want to be able to tell anybody who is interested that no person in an American prison–civilian or military–held as a suspected member of al-Qaida will be held without independent judicial review. We are not allowing the executive branch to make that decision unchecked. For the first time in the history of American warfare, every American combatant held by the executive branch will have their day in Federal court, and the government has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence you are in fact part of the enemy force. [my emphasis]
Not only does Graham insist the standard in habeas cases must be a “preponderance of the evidence” standard–something the DC Circuit has threatened to chip away at. But the language about courts having an obligation to make sure the government proves it case and courts looking over the shoulder sure implies a stronger review than Janice Rogers Brown understands it.
Furthermore, while Graham speaks explicitly at times about people caught in the US, his aspiration that “no person in an American prison … will be held without independent judicial review” would sure sound good the detainees in the American prison at Bagram, particularly taken in conjunction with Section 1036, which seems to suggest they get a review too.
Of course, passing a law stating that habeas corpus must consist of something more than a Circuit Court Judge rubber-stamping the government’s inaccurate intelligence files would be far better. But this language, showing legislative intent that habeas review remain real, is about all we get these days.