Revolution #149, November 30, 2008

Guantánamo: the Democratic Party Sequel

A prisoner who was subjected to months of isolation at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, described his elation when a fly made it into his cell; only to immediately feel guilty and wish for the fly to escape the cell so that it would not suffer a similar fate. Such prolonged isolation is just one of many forms of torture used and approved by the Bush administration. Calling these techniques “enhanced interrogation techniques” is like calling slavery an “improved job training program”. These techniques include: removal of clothing, hooding, forms of “no-touch” or “self-imposed” pain, such as shackling in stress positions and forced standing; psychological torment including religious and sexual humiliation; exploitation of the detainee’s phobias (such as a fear of dogs) to induce stress, and “scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him and/or his family.”1

What does it tell you when Obama has chosen the likes of John Brennan, top CIA aide to George Tenet during most of the Bush administration, as his transition chief for intelligence policy? Brennan openly defended “enhanced interrogation,” saying, “There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives.” He called rendition (kidnapping people and taking them to other countries where they can be held and tortured) “an absolutely vital tool.” He also defended then-prospective attorney general Michael Mukasey’s refusal to say whether waterboarding was torture. Brennan was reportedly key in influencing Obama to reverse himself and support warrantless wiretapping and to grant immunity to telecom companies that collaborated with that illegal spying after Obama had threatened to filibuster those very things. Brennan is a leading candidate to replace Mike McConnell and become Obama’s Director of National Intelligence.2

Senator and candidate Barack Obama repeatedly promised to close the prison at Guantánamo. Groups such as the ACLU are calling on Obama to make it his first act as president to close Guantánamo and to put an end to military commissions and to torture. What does it tell you that Obama also said, “Now the majority of the folks in Guantanamo, I suspect, are there for a reason. There are a lot of dangerous people” This is an outrageous statement for any attorney to make, much less one like Obama who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Never mind that many of the people who have been held at Guantánamo were sold to the US military for bounties and most have not been charged with anything. On November 22, 2008 a judge appointed by Bush ruled that five Algerian men had been held unlawfully imprisoned for almost seven years in Guantánamo. This was the same judge who had ruled back in 2005 that the detainees did not have the right to appear before courts in the U.S., i.e. he denied the right to habeas corpus. This very pro administration judge found that the government’s secret evidence in the case was so weak that the prisoners should be released outright. Are these people part of the majority of folks who Obama said are there for good reason?

What does it tell you that the Obama transition team is considering closing Guantánamo while seeking Congressional authority for extending preventive detention in the United States of terrorism suspects deemed too dangerous to release even if they cannot be successfully prosecuted, according to a November 15 article in the New York Times.3 This would involve a continuation of the “black hole” of Guantánamo and further codify ripping to shreds habeas corpus. Guantánamo and what it represented became one of the most hated symbols of the Bush regime. After years of struggle by many progressive legal and human rights organizations and many others like World Can’t Wait, psychologists in the APA...all of whom fought to expose the crimes being committed in our name, brought the orange jumpsuit into public view, and fought to force this into U.S. courts for some due process. Now, Obama’s team is seriously debating whether to expand preventive detention even if they close Guantánamo. Yes, that IS fascistic. Even if the Democrats do it. The main reason due process was brought into being hundreds of years ago was so that the king couldn’t just disappear and torture people without any recourse by people.

Shame on anyone who was an outspoken opponent of the Bush regime who now paves the way for this—you have to choose what you are going to do and where you will stand in relationship to humanity and history. Will you end up selling out your principles and your soul (so to speak) in order to justify the continuation of Bush’s same practices because they are being done under Obama? Or will you resist the crimes committed by the government no matter who is perpetrating them? The New York Times quotes David Cole, a civil liberties lawyer, as saying “You can’t be a purist and say there’s never any circumstance in which a democratic society can preventively detain someone.” What about when you wrote in your last book, “the preventive paradigm renders the rule of law virtually unrecognizable”?

What does it tell you when Obama has made it clear that he is not going to pursue the prosecution of Bush administration officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity? According to an AP wire service story, two Obama advisers said there’s little, if any, chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.4 There is a certain irony here involving the question of individual responsibility; Obama is telling Black people to take personal responsibility for their situation (forget the embeddedness of the oppression of Black people including the savage inequality in schools to take one example) while he is telling the world that John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Tenet can formally and personally approve the application of specific torture methods and not be held accountable in any way. (In fact, Colin Powell may be “held accountable” in another way—by being appointed to some high level position in the Obama administration. At the very least, Powell’s endorsement of Obama was played up in a major way, speaking a million words about how this serial war criminal is esteemed by the Obama team.)

These criminals were caught red-handed! Attorney Scott Horton, a columnist in Harpers, lists many of the crimes of the Bush administration and makes the point: “Indeed, in weighing the enormity of the administration’s transgressions against the realistic prospect of justice, it is possible to determine not only the crime that calls most clearly for prosecution but also the crime that is most likely to be successfully prosecuted. In both cases, that crime is torture.”5

This is an important lesson in how bourgeois elections, among other things, serve to provide a “mandate” for the crimes of the system?!

Horton warns of the consequences of inaction: “The alternative, simply doing nothing, not only ratifies torture; it ratifies the failure of the people to control the actions of their government.”

 As it said in the Revolution article “After the Elections...the Promise of Change...and the Change We Need”: “Now that Barack Obama has been elected, the question is posed for all those who genuinely desire changes so desperately needed by the people of the world: What are you going to do now? Will you fight for the changes that got you to put your hopes in Obama? Or will you ‘wait and see’? But how long will you wait, and how much will you have to see? What will you find intolerable? At what point will you step up and resist?”


1. Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, 2008, Doubleday.[back]

2. Glenn Greenwald, “John Brennan and Bush’s interrogation/detention policies, “, November 16. 2008[back]

3. William Glaberson, “Post-Guantánamo: A New Detention Law?” New York Times, November 15, 2008[back]

4. Lara Jakes Jordan, “Obama Advisers Say No Charges Likely Against Those Who Authorized Torture,” Associated Press, November 17, 2008[back]

5. Scott Horton, “Justice after Bush, Prosecuting an outlaw administration,” Harper’s; December 2008. but only subscribers can get the whole article online][back]


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