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Netroots Nation: Close Gitmo and Use the Legal System

I’m going to be liveblogging today’s panel discussion, Close Gitmo and Use the Legal System at Netroots Nation 2010. Panelists featured are Adam Serwer, Matthew Alexander, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Vince Warren, and your very own emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler. (Video of this panel may be available later, technology permitting.) This is a rough paraphrase, not a word-for-word transcript.

Wheeler: Lists good news and bad news about the topic of detention and Gitmo; we have seen some positive changes but over the big picture, no real change.

Nadler: Very frustrated as not much has happened this year. Notes that the administration has not behaved as anticipated prior to taking office. Congress has enacted bills to restrict transfers of detainees; although it’s possible to try detainees in court, nothing has happened.

Gitmo used as a tool of political fear. 192 detainees remain at Gitmo; 35 have been identified as those who could be charged with offenses, the majority could be released.

President has outlined procedures which are different, but outcomes are the same. Detainees may be charged, tried in civilian court, tribunals, or detained indefinitely — simply because we say a detainee is dangerous. Habeas corpus has not been recognized. We still have people who have been cleared altogether who have been detained because we can’t release them. The refusal to take some of these people into the U.S. has made it difficult to negotiate with other countries to take some of the same. If they are not dangerous, there’s no good reason why they cannot be released into the U.S.

Gitmo is not under writ of habeas corpus; also a question as to whether Bagram airport is also under writ of habeas corpus. Also in contention whether black sites are as well. May be maintained that battlefield sites may not be covered by habeas corpus, but what about detaining individuals seized in Sweden? Or case of individuals who were taken into detention by locals and turned over for bounties.

Prisoner of war is used as an excuse for indefinite detention, but it’s the war is not clear. No uniform, taken away from battlefield, no change over the year on this issue. Not an optimistic assessment.

Serwer: Not one of the happier panels here at NN10 because so little has happened. One of the places where uniformity of Republican opposition has been affected has been on issue of Gitmo; even Bush said Gitmo should be closed, Republicans agreed, and yet the resolve has changed. The lack of urgency now gives impression that Gitmo is not as bad as it is.

Alexander: Aware that al Qaeda uses Gitmo as a recruiting tool, showing our hypocrisy in detaining people, making this a key reason why Gitmo should be closed. We compromised our principles in using and keeping Gitmo open, partly out of fear, partly out of prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. One of the fundamental reasons Gitmo should be closed is one the left doesn’t use — it should be closed for patriotic reasons. It should be closed to remove it as a recruiting tool for terrorism.

Warren: Points out that Nadler is his congressman; Nadler had fought the defunding of ACORN as an unconstitutional bill of attainder. Believes Alexander’s point about Gitmo as a recruiting tool is important, but brings a couple other perspectives to the table. This is Obama’s Guantanamo. Previously fought against the Bush administration on the Boumediene case, but now this is the current administration.

Roughly 177 men in Gitmo, some have been cleared. The underwear bomber incident stopped the release of the 60 men cleared, brought process to a halt.

Obama’s story is about what we hear as well as what we don’t hear. Chinese Uighurs were ordered released as they were no threat; Bush administration fought the order. Now the Obama administration maintains that the Uighurs should not be released because China might detain and torture these individuals. Yet Obama administration has vigorously opposed release Uighurs into the U.S. as it was in conflict with immigration laws. Abdul Aziz Naji has been injured, poorly treated, could be released to Algeria, but could be tortured or killed by one of two factions — Algerian government or fundamentalists, which Naji described as being caught between two fires. His case went to Supreme Court, was released to Algeria but “disappeared” as no record of his arrival in Algeria has been recorded. A source has said Naji has been taken into custody for “routine interrogation” but the Algerian government itself has not acknowledged. This is a situation which Obama administration claimed it was trying to get away from.

Obama administration is now itself caught between two fires.

(cont’d.) Read more

"MD's Sob Story"

I’m not Raul Grijalva or Jerry Nadler, but I thought I’d try to respond to TPM reader MD’s “sob story” (as MD called it) because the story illustrates the issues at stake in health care reform. Here’s the story.

Like everyone I have a sob-story to tell about health care. After telling it to countless liberals who oppose the Senate’s health-care reform bill, I still haven’t heard a good answer from them about why they can’t support the Senate bill. They usually stop talking, or try to change the subject.Maybe Raul Grijalva or Barney Frank or Anthony Weiner or Jerry Nadler have wrestled with this problem and I haven’t seen it. Have you seen anything from them about this?

My story: My father is dying of Huntington’s disease. Before he dies in 8 to 10 years, he will need anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and drugs that fight dementia and his tremors and convulsions. He’ll need multiple brain scans and physical therapy sessions.

Current medical treatments can’t save him, but they will give him a few more years before the slow death strips him of his memories, personality and control of his body.

There’s a 50 percent chance the same slow motion death awaits me and each of my three siblings. If I ever lose my job I’ll become uninsurable, permanently. My sister already lost her insurance.

That means whatever treatment is developed for Huntington’s will be unavailable to us. There’s simply no way we could afford it. Not only high tech gene therapies or other interventions, but the medications and treatments that exist now that would buy us enough time to see our kids’ graduations or weddings, and would give them hope of not suffering their grandfather’s fate.

There’s a bill that would mean we’d never be rejected for health insurance or have it canceled. Health insurance that could ease our final years, or maybe even save us.

But liberals are refusing to support it. I know there are principles and politics at stake. I know people are tired of being told to shut up and take what’s given to them. But in the end, there a thousands of people with Huntington’s and millions of people with other serious or terminal illnesses who will never benefit from treatment because they are uninsured. Millions more who are otherwise healthy will die premature or unnecessary deaths because basic health care isn’t affordable.

What do liberal leaders say to them? What do those liberals tell people like my dad, a die-hard activist Democrat, a UAW member who worked his way through college to become a teacher?

I’m used to Republicans and conservatives not giving a damn about people like us, or mocking us for asking questions like this. That’s why my father spent so much of his life fighting to keep Democrats in power. But to be abandoned by people my father worked with and supported his entire life? What in the bill is so terrible to justify that?

This isn’t about betrayal, or a slap in the face, or an insult. It isn’t about strategies to keep seats, or grand theories of justice. Democrats in Congress have the chance to cast a single vote that will make the lives of tens of millions of Americans less wrenching, our demises less brutal. That’s what this is about.

I’d like to hear Reps. Grijalva, Frank, Weiner or Nadler tell us why they can’t cast that vote.

Now, to begin with, MD’s entire premise is wrong. To suggest that Grijalva and Nadler are the people preventing a bill from moving forward ignores the fact that, as things stand, even with their votes, the House would be at least one vote short of passage. As I pointed out here, until MD can convince one of the following to vote for a bill, there is zero chance of the Senate bill passing: Bart Stupak, Larry Kissell, Dennis Kucinich, Eric Massa, or any number of Blue Dogs who refused to vote for the bill the first time. MD would do better yelling at the Catholic Bishops, who think it’s more important for Bart Stupak to make choice less accessible to all women than it is to provide lots of poor Catholics health insurance, than he would yelling at Grijalva and Nadler.

And because the bill is at least one vote short, it is going to have to get more populist (to convince Kucinich or Massa to support it) or still more conservative (to get either the anti-choice vote or the Blue Dog vote) before it passes, presumably through reconciliation.

And frankly, it may get better in ways that are very important for MD and his family. Read more