The Strongest Animal

by digby

This is just sad:

An Obama administration official says the United States has released the Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was at the center of a Supreme Court battle giving detainees the right to challenge their confinement.

The official said Lakhdar Boumediene left the U.S. naval facility in Cuba Friday headed to relatives in France. The official spoke on a condition of anonymity because the release was not yet cleared for official announcement.

Everybody knows the name Boumadiene because of the Supreme Court case bearing his name which restored the writ of habeas corpus. But I wonder if people recall Boumadiene's story. Here's the wikipedia version:

In early October 2001, less than a month after al Qaeda's attack on September 11, 2001, American intelligence analysts in the Embassy became concerned that an increase in chatter was a clue that al Qaeda was planning an attack on their embassy. At their request Bosnia arrested Bensayah Belkacem, the man they believed had made dozens of phone calls to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and five acquaintances of his. All six men were residents of Bosnia, who were born in Algeria. Five of the men were Bosnian citizens.

In January 2002, the Supreme Court of Bosnia ruled that there was no evidence to hold the six men, ordered the charges dropped and the men released. American forces, including troops who were part of a 3,000 man American peace-keeping contingent in Bosnia were waiting for the six men upon their release from Bosnia custody, and transported them to Guantanamo.

On November 20th, 2008, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the release Lakhdar Boumediene along with four other Algerians he was being held with. A sixth Algerian detainee, Belkacem Bensayah, was not ordered to be released.[2]

This man was kidnapped from the streets of Bosnia and rendered to Guantanamo where he sat in prison for more than six years. Now he is free to go back to his life as if it never happened. Huzzah.

But all that sounds so dry and bureaucratic. You hardly get the sense that any of it had to do with actual human beings. Perhaps this excerpt, from Jane Mayer's 2005 article in the New Yorker called "Outsourcing Torture" about one of Boumadiene's fellow Bosnians, will illustrate that a bit, lest we forget that these were people with real lives and people who loved them:

Nadja Dizdarevic is a thirty-year-old mother of four who lives in Sarajevo. On October 21, 2001, her husband, Hadj Boudella, a Muslim of Algerian descent, and five other Algerians living in Bosnia were arrested after U.S. authorities tipped off the Bosnian government to an alleged plot by the group to blow up the American and British Embassies in Sarajevo. One of the suspects reportedly placed some seventy phone calls to the Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the days after September 11th. Boudella and his wife, however, maintain that neither he nor several of the other defendants knew the man who had allegedly contacted Zubaydah. And an investigation by the Bosnian government turned up no confirmation that the calls to Zubaydah were made at all, according to the men’s American lawyers, Rob Kirsch and Stephen Oleskey.

At the request of the U.S., the Bosnian government held all six men for three months, but was unable to substantiate any criminal charges against them. On January 17, 2002, the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that they should be released. Instead, as the men left prison, they were handcuffed, forced to put on surgical masks with nose clips, covered in hoods, and herded into waiting unmarked cars by masked figures, some of whom appeared to be members of the Bosnian special forces. Boudella’s wife had come to the prison to meet her husband, and she recalled that she recognized him, despite the hood, because he was wearing a new suit that she had brought him the day before. “I will never forget that night,” she said. “It was snowing. I was screaming for someone to help.” A crowd gathered, and tried to block the convoy, but it sped off. The suspects were taken to a military airbase and kept in a freezing hangar for hours; one member of the group later claimed that he saw one of the abductors remove his Bosnian uniform, revealing that he was in fact American. The U.S. government has neither confirmed nor denied its role in the operation.

Six days after the abduction, Boudella’s wife received word that her husband and the other men had been sent to Guantánamo. One man in the group has alleged that two of his fingers were broken by U.S. soldiers. Little is publicly known about the welfare of the others.

Boudella’s wife said that she was astounded that her husband could be seized without charge or trial, at home during peacetime and after his own government had exonerated him. The term “enemy combatant” perplexed her. “He is an enemy of whom?” she asked. “In combat where?” She said that her view of America had changed. “I have not changed my opinion about its people, but unfortunately I have changed my opinion about its respect for human rights,” she said. “It is no longer the leader in the world. It has become the leader in the violation of human rights.”

In October, Boudella attempted to plead his innocence before the Pentagon’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal. The C.S.R.T. is the Pentagon’s answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year, over the Bush Administration’s objections, that detainees in Guantánamo had a right to challenge their imprisonment. Boudella was not allowed to bring a lawyer to the proceeding. And the tribunal said that it was “unable to locate” a copy of the Bosnian Supreme Court’s verdict freeing him, which he had requested that it read. Transcripts show that Boudella stated, “I am against any terrorist acts,” and asked, “How could I be part of an organization that I strongly believe has harmed my people?” The tribunal rejected his plea, as it has rejected three hundred and eighty-seven of the three hundred and ninety-three pleas it has heard. Upon learning this, Boudella’s wife sent the following letter to her husband’s American lawyers:

Dear Friends, I am so shocked by this information that it seems as if my blood froze in my veins, I can’t breathe and I wish I was dead. I can’t believe these things can happen, that they can come and take your husband away, overnight and without reason, destroy your family, ruin your dreams after three years of fight. . . . Please, tell me, what can I still do for him? . . . Is this decision final, what are the legal remedies? Help me to understand because, as far as I know the law, this is insane, contrary to all possible laws and human rights. Please help me, I don’t want to lose him.

John Radsan, the former C.I.A. lawyer, offered a reply of sorts. “As a society, we haven’t figured out what the rough rules are yet,” he said. “There are hardly any rules for illegal enemy combatants. It’s the law of the jungle. And right now we happen to be the strongest animal.”

That is what we did to innocent people. Maybe most Americans don't think we should play the blame game, but I'm not sure people around the world will be satisfied that we have actually stopped acting like animals based solely on our promise to stop being animals.

In that regard, Obama has announced that he will reinstate the Military Commissions. The only reason to do that is because the US has people in custody whom they can't prove guilty in either civilian court or a normal military court. But somebody, somewhere believes they are guilty anyway and so a separate justice system that will allow them to be "proven" guilty must be created. It's an interesting concept. I guess we'll just have to count on the good faith and good will of our leaders to always know who's "really" guilty. As a reader wrote into Jack Cafferty yesterday (about the Abu Ghraib photos):

Why are we always second guessing the president. Give him a break on this. And while I'm ranting, I wish we'd stop taking those ideologue positions of liberal and conservative views on everything. P.S., I'm a radical liberal Democrat myself, but I pledge to give that up right now."

Words to live by.

By the way, I have to wonder why it's taken centuries to come up with the civilian and military justice systems? Apparently, creating a new one is piece of cake. Why all the sturm and drang with appellate court challenges and legislation? Just put it in a presidential memo and carry on.