Monday, July 10, 2006

The Gitmo Fallout

David Bowker vividly remembers the first time he heard the phrase. A lawyer in the State Department, Bowker was part of a Bush administration "working group" assembled in the panicked aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Its task: figuring out what rights captured foreign fighters and terror suspects were entitled to while in U.S. custody. White House hard-liners, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his uncompromising lawyer, David Addington, made it clear that there was only one acceptable answer. One day, Bowker recalls, a colleague explained the goal: to "find the legal equivalent of outer space"—a "lawless" universe. As Bowker understood it, the idea was to create a system where detainees would have no legal rights and U.S courts would have no power to intervene.

The "outer space" line became something of a joke around the office, but Bowker and a handful of his colleagues didn't find it all that funny. The White House was already planning to fly terror suspects to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or other secret U.S. prisons overseas, where they would have no way to challenge their detention. In January 2002, Bowker and other State Department lawyers pushed back. After seeing a Justice Department memo arguing that Qaeda and Taliban prisoners did not even deserve basic protections under the Geneva Conventions, they warned that the administration was inviting an enormous backlash, both from U.S. courts and foreign allies. It would also, they feared, jeopardize President George W. Bush's plans to try such prisoners in specially created military courts. "Even those terrorists captured in Afghanistan ... are entitled to the fundamental humane treatment standards of ... the Geneva Conventions," William Howard Taft IV, the State Department legal counselor and Bowker's boss, wrote in a Jan. 23, 2002, memo obtained by NEWSWEEK. In particular, Taft argued, the United States has always followed one provision of the Geneva Conventions—known as Common Article 3—which "provides the minimal standards" of treatment that even "terrorists captured in Afghanistan" deserve.

But the complaints went unheeded. The hard-liners forcefully argued that in wartime, the president had virtually unlimited powers to defend the nation. They may come to wish they'd listened a little more closely to the warnings. In a ruling late last month, the Supreme Court came down squarely on the side of the dissenters. The case involved Ahmed Hamdan, a captured 37-year-old Yemeni who once served as Osama bin Laden's driver and now sits in a Gitmo cell. The court blocked the Pentagon's plans to try Hamdan as a war criminal in a military commission authorized by President Bush. The court's reasoning was complex, but the majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, concluded that the military commissions, with their limited protections for the rights of the accused, violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the basic provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions—precisely the argument that Taft, Bowker and other State Department lawyers had tried to make four years ago.



At Monday, July 17, 2006 12:42:00 PM , Anonymous Ken LeBrun said...

Anything this administration does in secret is likely to be corrupted. My personal experience - summarily dismissed from the US Naval Academy via use of a secret and false homosexual report. Unfortunately, not an isolated incident. Secret homosexual reports sent through back channels in the military are very efficient and effective in difficult political situations. Although the Justice Dept and the courts were fully aware that my dismissal was a flagrant violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the secret homosexual reports made my case "too hot to handle" for the courts and I was denied relief. Regardless of their press releases, this administration will continue to defy U.S. and international law, including intimidation of the trying officers, if the trials are done in secret.

At Monday, July 17, 2006 2:08:00 PM , Blogger EAPrez said...

So sorry for your experience.
I agree w/your assertion that anything this administration does in secret is likely to be corrupted. As my grandmother used to say "he who has nothing to hide, hides nothing!"
Thanks for visiting and sharing your opinion.


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