There were a few excellent diaries written this past week that I wanted to highlight for their incisive and informative analysis of issues pertaining to civil liberties and human rights abuses. Judging by the small number of comments in each of them, these diaries have received only a small amount of attention by the community to date, but I think they're very much worth reading. I've picked out a few key passages that illustrate the challenges surrounding the war on terror and our government's response to it, but I strongly recommend reading each of them in their entirety.
On Tuesday, kgosztola wrote a very comprehensive review of juvenile prisoners at Guantanamo and their struggle for due process in The Guantanamo Children: These Aren't What You'd Call "Little League" Terrorists:
The most well known juvenile detainee to be imprisoned at Guantanamo is Omar Ahmed Khadr. His assessment report from January 2004 explains the reason for his continued detention was because “his father is a senior Al-Qaida financier and reportedly the fourth in command underneath Usama Bin Laden in the Al-Qaida organization.” His brother and him were encouraged to go to Afghanistan and fight the US with the support of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. And, according to JTF-GTMO, though just sixteen years old at the time of his travel, he is “intelligent and educated and understands the gravity of his actions and affiliations.” And, he admitted to participating in mining operations and “harassing attacks” against US forces.
This assessment stands in stark contrast to then-UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy’s contention that Khadr is a child soldier whom the US should help rehabilitate.
“Like other children abused by armed groups around the world who are repatriated to their home communities and undergo re-education for their reintegration, Omar should be given the same protections afforded these children…Trying young people for war crimes with regard to acts committed when they are minors could create a dangerous international precedent.”
On Wednesday, Daphne Eviatar Human Rights 1st continued with the theme of denying due process but focused new revelations from WikiLeaks and Bagram detainees in Wikileaks Documents Reveal Hazards of Blindly Relying on Secret Evidence:
The U.S. military holds some 1700 detainees at a prison on the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan - nearly ten times as many as remain at Guantanamo. But unlike at Guantanamo, prisoners in Afghanistan don't have the right to legal representation or to challenge or even to see the secret evidence being used against them.
Unfortunately, as the latest set of documents revealed by Wikileaks demonstrates, the military's ability or willingness to truly vet its secret informant evidence does not inspire confidence. The result is that we may well be imprisoning the wrong people.
Finally, earlier today, TOM ANDREWS wrote Like the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars? You'll LOVE This!, an analysis of legislation proposed in the Senate by John McCain and in the House by Buck McKeon (R-CA) that would expand the government's power to wage war and hold terrorism suspects indefinitely. Tom says of the twin bills:
It is arguably the greatest ceding of unchecked authority to the Executive Branch in modern history. Not only would this bill abdicate Congress’ authority to declare war, it would relieve the Administration of the need to seek Congressional resolutions of support or authorizations for new military actions.
But wait, there’s more! In addition to providing a blank check for war, the proposed legislation would give the president dangerous new powers to detain anyone suspected of links to terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the legislation, titled the “Detainee Security Act of 2011”). It requires that all suspects be held by the military (unless the Defense Secretary grants a waiver), and either tried by military commission or held indefinitely.
Raha Wala at Human Rights First has more on the draconian McCain/McKeon legislation.
One thing I would add to this particular discussion: McKeon's bill would prohibit detainees from being transferred "to a country or entity if there is a confirmed case of an individual being transferred there who subsequently engaged in terrorist activity." Basically, if a Guantanamo detainee, locked up for years and brutalized in detention, is finally released to his home country but then decides to take vengeance on the United States for his treatment in Guantanamo, that would prevent all detainees from being released to the same country in the future, even if they are innocent of all charges. The bill does include language that would allow Robert Gates (or Leon Panetta, after he's sworn in as the new Defense Secretary) to waive that provision, but it's clear that the measure is designed to broaden the scope by which prisoners can be held in indefinite detention without trials.
In addition, McKeon's legislation doesn't narrowly define "terrorist activity," so it's quite possible that when deciding if a particular country is now off-limits for releasing detainees, the bill's proponents are seeking to include almost any activity that could be construed as aiding and abetting terrorists -- like working as a cameraman for Al Jazeera, which got Sami al-Hajj locked up in Guantanamo for six years.
Once again, I encourage others to read these three diaries that unfortunately did not get more traction upon publication.