BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Much like the war in Afghanistan became "Obama's war" after he decided upon a surge strategy, so too has the detention center at Guantánamo Bay become a part of President Obama's legacy.
The reasoning behind that has little or nothing to do with the fact that he has failed to live up to his promise of closing Guantánamo by his self-imposed deadline of Jan. 21. Even though recent actions on the part of the White House have slowed such efforts, the reason Gitmo still stands as a symbol of our reckless detention policy is as much of a congressional fault as an executive one.
No, the reason Guantánamo is Obama's unlawful detention center as much as President Bush's is that his administration appears to be using the same techniques to cover up abuses there. Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in the reaction to a news report about the three Guantánamo suicides in early June 2006.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that the government and military lied about these three "suicides," as well as the very possible insinuation that the military killed these three men before attempting to portray their deaths as suicidal "asymmetrical warfare," Obama's Justice Department didn't flinch a second before defending the clearly flawed Bush-era investigation and its conclusions. The DOJ said Monday that the situation had already been investigated and no evidence of wrongdoing was discovered.
In an article released by Harper's Magazine Monday, Scott Horton investigates the alleged suicides, dovetailing an earlier study by researchers at Seton Hall University's law school of a U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) report on the suicides, with the testimony of officers present that night.
The Seton Hall report, released in August 2008, brings up dozens of basic questions that go unaddressed in the NCIS report (such as how the suicides could have been carried out, how the deaths could have gone undiscovered for so long, the lack of disciplinary action against military personnel who had to have failed in their duties that night for the NCIS report to be accurate), as well as noting that the report itself failed to conform to some very basic standard military procedures.
Sometimes a dry legal report, however revelatory, needs an eyewitness account to get peoples' attention. Horton's conversations with four members of a military intelligence unit assigned to Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay detail the existence of a "black site" compound there that they nicknamed "Camp No," and from which they heard a "series of screams" on one occasion.
They also told of a white van, known as the "paddy wagon," which transported caged prisoners from their cell blocks to "Camp No." The drivers of the paddy wagon were able to avoid a search by telling camp guards they were "delivering a pizza," which the guards were made to understand was code for transporting a prisoner.
The Obama Administration has chosen to align itself with people who refer to human beings as pizzas. These same people have the hypocritical audacity to insist, as the Guantánamo Commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris did, that the detainees "have no regard for human life... neither ours nor their own."
Speak for yourself, buddy. Or rather, speak for all of us Americans, since we can't use the "not my president" excuse anymore.
Beyond the clear contempt for human life that is revealed in Horton's story, we see the image of a government willing to take advantage of the tragic deaths of three men to threaten the legal rights of hundreds of others (emphasis mine):
As the Seton Hall researchers note, however, nothing in the NCIS report suggests that the investigators secured or reviewed the duty roster, the prisoner-transfer book, the pass-on book, the records of phone and radio communications, or footage from the camera that continuously monitored activity in the hallways, all of which could have helped them authoritatively re-construct the events of that evening.
The NCIS did, however, move swiftly to seize every piece of paper possessed by every single prisoner in Camp America, some 1,065 pounds of material, much of it privileged attorney-client correspondence. Several weeks later, authorities sought an after-the-fact justification. The Justice Department -- bolstered by sworn statements from Admiral Harris and from Carol Kisthardt, the special agent in charge of the NCIS investigation—claimed in court that the seizure was appropriate because there had been a conspiracy among the prisoners to commit suicide. Justice further claimed that investigators had found suicide notes and argued that the attorney-client materials were being used to pass communications among the prisoners.
David Remes, a lawyer who opposed the Justice Department’s efforts, explained the practical effect of the government’s maneuvers. The seizure, he said, “sent an unmistakable message to the prisoners that they could not expect their communications with their lawyers to remain confidential.
The fact that such a specious argument from the previous administration is being allowed to stand is yet another reason to doubt the commitment of Obama's DOJ to the rule of law.
"But wait," you might think, "What about Obama's closure of the so-called 'black sites,' one of which being the assumed setting for these three deaths?" Surely one of the main reasons he ordered these black sites closed was so this kind of undercover killing and torture could not proceed as it could during the Bush years. Yet Horton reveals that "Camp No" was likely under the purview of the Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, and that Obama's closure order narrowly applied to the CIA's black sites only.
So, could this same Camp No tragedy happen again? Horton suggests it may have already happened under Obama's watch:
Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain. Those charged with accounting for what happened -- the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and ultimately the attorney general himself -- all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.
By refusing to further investigate the 2006 suicides, along with the many other alleged crimes of the Bush Administration, the Gitmo narrative changes. Not only does this situation tell an unfortunate story about American values on the world stage, but it forces the current administration to speak for the previous one. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan uses the Harper's story to renew the call for war crimes investigations, saying this latest story "threatens to tear down the wall of lies and denial that have protected Americans from facing what the last administration actually did."
Many branches of government must have been involved in such an act of torture or negligence or both, and the subsequent cover-up -- from the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA, and JSOC. The cover-up appears to have been continued by the Obama administration -- a staggering surrender to pragmatism that is in fact a cooptation of evil...
Notice that these torture sessions - so severe they killed three prisoners -- were conducted in June 2006. Long after the original crisis was over. Long after we have been told real torture sessions occurred...
The investigation must be conducted by an independent prosecutor -- Patrick Fitzgerald comes to mind -- or by the Red Cross or an international body. It must go up the chain of command to the very top to find the real people who are responsible for this war crime and three homicides.
Among those who need to be subpoenaed are the former president and vice-president of the United States.
Count me in the Sullivan camp. In fact, BuzzFlash has been among the throngs of Americans calling for an in-depth, non-partisan, comprehensive investigation of the Bush Administration for war crimes for years. That hasn't changed.
It's just that I, for one, do not want to have to be among those calling for a similar investigation of the Obama Administration in the near future. It may have been Bush who ordered the pizzas, but Obama is charging the bill to the shrinking bank account of good will toward the American people.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS