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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Looking In The Rearview Mirror

by digby

I have much the same reaction to Obama's speech this morning as Greenwald and dday. Actions, not words are what matter in this case. Unfortunately, the last administration lied so constantly and so blatantly in the name of national security that the new president has to make a much stronger case and demonstrate his commitments much more visibly before anyone will believe America has changed its policy. Just saying you believe in the constitution and that America should live up to its values isn't really good enough. After all, Bush used to say the same thing.

But in case you are wondering what the congressional Democrats specifically have in mind about Guantanamo, here's a little clue:

Andrea Mitchell: The president acknowledges that the real difficulty is what to do with those prisoners who you are not able to bring to trial and they are still a danger to the United States. And he talked about keeping them in prolonged, what he called prolonged detention, while working that out with judicial authorities and the congress, presumably legislation. Is that doable?

Dianne Feinstein: Yes. The laws of war very clearly say that you can keep a combatant in detention for the length of the conflict. Now this is a bit of an unusual war in that sense, but it is, in fact, a war and it is going to go on.

Therefore, if somebody is judged to be an unlawful combatant, and they remain a threat to our national security, what needs to be evolved is a process whereby their detention is periodically reviewed, either by a court, which I would prefer, or by a military panel and a determination made as to whether the threat still continues.

Now this would happen, I would think, annually, in a lengthy detention, but there is no question in my mind that somebody who is classified as an unlawful combatant can, in fact, be kept in detention until the end of this conflict, which means terrorism, against the United States, against her allies, and in the world abates.

So, basically, we are right back where we started if Feinstein speaks in any way for the administration and the Democratic Party. We are still in a "war" against a method of violence, which means there is no possible end and which means that the government can capture and imprison anyone they determine to be "the enemy" forever. The only thing that will change is where the prisoners are held and few little procedural tweaks to make it less capricious. (It's nice that some sort of official committee will meet once in a while to decide if the war is over or if the prisoner is finally too old to still be a "danger to Americans.")

There seems to be some misunderstanding about Guantanamo. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads is that it is nothing more than a symbol, which can be dealt with simply by closing the prison. That's just not true. Guantanamo is a symbol, true, but it's a symbol of a lawless, unconstitutional detention and interrogation system. Changing the venue doesn't solve the problem.

I know it's a mess, but the fact is that this isn't really that difficult, except in the usual beltway kabuki political sense. There are literally tens of thousands of potential terrorists all over the world who could theoretically harm America. We cannot protect ourselves from that possibility by keeping the handful we have in custody locked up forever, whether in Guantanamo or some Super Max prison in the US. It's patently absurd to obsess over these guys like it makes us even the slightest bit safer to have them under indefinite lock and key so they "can't kill Americans." The mere fact that we are doing this makes us less safe because the complete lack of faith we show in our constitution and our justice systems is what fuels the idea that this country is weak and easily terrified. There is no such thing as a terrorist suspect who is too dangerous to be set free. They are a dime a dozen, they are all over the world and for every one we lock up there will be three to take his place. There is not some finite number of terrorists we can kill or capture and then the "war" will be over and the babies will always be safe. This whole concept is nonsensical.

The real terrorists, I'm afraid, are the self-serving hawks who promise to explode a political dirty bomb in the halls of the capitol every time someone tries to be sensible about American foreign policy and national security. They are still running things. They have always run things. And the sorry fact is that their dominance is a decades long model of bipartisan comity.