Gitmo is Bush and Obama’s ‘law-free zone’


I thought it was the responsibility of professional American journalists to call attention to politicians who, after being elected, break promises they made on the campaign trail. And to write stories about the lies of former office holders whose illegalities while in office did great harm to the public good and the rule of law.

And yet the only new stories I’m seeing regarding presidential approval of torture and broken promises to close the Guantanamo Bay jail are coming out of European and Indian publications:

The former chief prosecutor for the US government at Guantánamo Bay has accused the administration he served of operating a “law-free zone” there, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the order to establish the detention camp on Cuba. Retired air force colonel Morris Davis resigned in October 2007 in protest against interrogation methods at Guantánamo, and has made his remarks in the lead-up to 13 November, the anniversary of President George W Bush’s executive order setting up military commissions to try terrorist suspects.

Davis said that the methods of interrogation used on Guantánamo detainees – which he described as “torture” – were in breach of the US’s own statutes on torture, and added: “If torture is a crime, it should be prosecuted.”

Davis’s Crimes of War project is leading pressure on the administration of President Barack Obama during Guantánamo’s 10th anniversary, with firm reminders of Obama’s unequivocal pledges to abolish military commissions and close the camp. Professor Thomas Keenan, the head of the Bard College human rights programme, which staged the conference, said: “The president campaigned on a pledge to close down the jail at Guantánamo Bay, and to end the use of military commissions to try its inmates. How is it possible that, two years after he was elected, there are still more than 150 prisoners there, and this November, one of them will go on trial before one of those very commissions?”

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8 Responses to Gitmo is Bush and Obama’s ‘law-free zone’

  1. Pingback: Suburban Guerrilla » Blog Archive » Gitmo is Bush and Obama’s ‘law-free zone’

  2. upyernoz says:

    “How is it possible that, two years after he was elected, there are still more than 150 prisoners there, and this November, one of them will go on trial before one of those very commissions?”

    it’s possible because congress passed a rider on its budget bill prohibiting the president from using any money to transfer the prisoners out of gitmo to anywhere in the u.s. or to try them in a civilian court. that’s why it is now preparing a case before a military commission. at this point, the obama administration’s choice is either not trying any of the gitmo detainees and leaving them there until congress repeals its earlier funding ban, or trying them before a military commission.

    that’s how it’s possible. what i find remarkable is how often i read about obama breaking his promise to close guantanamo that doesn’t mention that once critical fact.

    • oddmanout215 says:

      First of all, no one forced Obama to promise that he would close the Gitmo jail when he was campaigning for president. But he did make this promise, which means he either didn’t know what he was talking about or he was simply saying what he thought must be said in order to appeal to certain voters. Or both. Obama also said he’d put on his comfortable shoes and walk with union members, but he broke that and many other promises, too.

      Secondly, no one forced Obama to cave on a budget bill that included the rider about Gitmo. If he had stood up to Republicans when they threatened to shut down the government back in the spring, he wouldn’t have had to surrender on the Gitmo issue either. The sad fact is that he has caved on every difficult issue, from the moment he took office, and has repeatedly resorted to the excuse that his only two options are surrender or endure the dreaded Republican filibuster. Not once did he test the Republicans’ resolve, and that’s a big reason why he has broken so many promises.

  3. upyernoz says:

    what an odd reaction to my comment. first, during the 2008 campaign I don’t think anyone expected the GOP and congressional democrats to work together to cut off funding for the gitmo closing. I certainly didn’t see it coming. I can’t imagine why any reasonable person would hold not seeing that betrayal coming against Obama (especially when there is so much that is his fault that we can hold against him).

    second, what’s the deal with throwing all that other crap into the mix. I mean, what does that have to do with his promise to walk with strikers? (personally, as a union lawyer, I’m glad he broke that promise. why that has such resonance with people outside the labor movement when keeping that promise would have been really counter productive, is beyond me)

    third, you’re right that Obama could have vetoed the finding cut off for gitmo. but it was part of a larger funding bill that he wanted to pass, largely because it contained funding for an extension of unemployment benefits. the gitmo provision was buried deep in the bill and was barely even covered at the time. I hardly think that is primarily the presidents fault when he was trying to keep benefits flowing to the unemployed.

    • oddmanout215 says:

      What’s odd is your apparent acceptance of Obama’s weak approach to governance. I “threw all that other crap into the mix” to remind you that Obama’s baseless promise to close Gitmo was not an isolated case, but rather one of many examples of his tendency to substitute rhetoric for reality.

      It’s also odd that you’re glad Obama reneged on his reckless promise to walk with union members. He obviously didn’t anticipate the possibility that the general public, not long after the backlash of public-sector union members in Wisconsin, would begin to catch on to the Republican tactic of dividing nonunion against union workers. The realization that we’re all in the same boat took hold with Occupy Wall Street, a phenomenon that Obama still doesn’t embrace, except from a cowardly distance.

      It IS the president’s fault. I’m tired of people making excuses for this man — he caved during budget negotiations in order to win a continuation of benefits for the unemployed, he agreed to the continuation of the Gitmo disgrace because it was “buried deep in the bill,” and so on. If Obama had established that he was his own man early on, when he had majorities in both houses, he wouldn’t have had to make so many shameful compromises later on.

  4. upyernoz says:

    I don’t accept obama’s weak approach to governing at all. where did I say anything like that?

    my basic approach is to evaluate his various decisions on their merits, rather than mix them together with other different decisions. I don’t have an overarching theory about the president (e.g. that he is a “corporatist”) because I think that those kinds of reductions are over-simplifications and end up making the argument look weaker, not stronger.

    on the particular subject of gitmo, I blame the president for not moving faster on the issue. he promised to close it win a year and he blew that. on the other hand, he did try to close it after that point, holder submitted a detailed plan to deal with the detainees (I didn’t totally agree with the plan, by the way. but it would have meant a closure of gitmo, which at least is something), but he was screwed over by congress, including quite a lot of members of his own party. that also suggests that acting faster, when the Dems still had a majority in congress, would not have made much of a difference.

    so I’m not saying that the president is totally off the hook for not closing gitmo. I am saying that it is weird that whenever this comes up, no one ever brings up the fact that gitmo is not now closed because congress cut off the funding to do it, and did so over the president (and particularly Eric Holder’s vehement )objections. I’m all for holding people accountable for their sins, but your approach seems to let the people on congress, again, that includes quite a few Dems, completely off the hook.

    as for the union thing, I was only stating my opinion. the union thing is a big deal to me, as I am a labor lawyer who exclusively represents labor unions and so I have a strong interest in how the president is handling labor issues. I am also very sensitive to how my clients view the issue. from my perspective at least, there is zero backlash against the president among union members or their officers because Obama did not walk the line wthi any strikers. the times I have specifically asked the union officials I know about it, they are not bothered by that at all. and personally, I think if Obama had done that, it would have backfired against the labor movement.

    the walking with strikers thing instead seems to be only a fixation of lineral bloggers who don’t like the president, rather than actual union people I know. the things my union clients care about with the president are card check (disappointed), his DoL and NLRB appointees (generally happy with obama on those things), and, especially among the building trades unions, green jobs (disappointed). in other words, it’s a pretty mixed bag. but not one has ever brought up obama’s walk with strikers line with me. It only comes up if I bring it up.

    • oddmanout215 says:

      I don’t think I’m being reductive . My opinion of Obama is based on the record of his actions as president. He has consistently broken campaign promises. He has demonstrated a peculiar reluctance to act in the interests of the poor and middle-class and has instead seemed to defer to the wishes of the banks and corporation chiefs. I can’t see how anyone who “evaluates his various decisions based on their merits” can come to any other conclusion. For example, focusing on restoring to health the banks that wrecked the economy rather than on jobs programs for the millions of newly unemployed Americans was an appallingly bad decision.

      Those who call Obama a corporatist point to the fact that he all but ignored the urgent need for job creation until he began campaigning for re-election. Incredibly, the man he chose to be a top adviser on this issue was Jeffrey Immelt, the chief of G.E., a hugely profitable American corporation that has more employees overseas than in America. It’s not an oversimplification to state that, by making such choices, Obama severely undermines his credibility on the jobs issue.

      I don’t know what union officials you do business with. I only know that many rank-and-file union members in my hometown and around the country have appeared at Occupy sites to express solidarity with protesters who are disgusted because Obama and Congress are joined at the hip with corporate chiefs and bank CEOs, and completely indifferent to the plight of ordinary Americans.

  5. upyernoz says:

    He has consistently broken campaign promises.

    he has a decidedly mixed record on campaign promises. he fulfilled his promises for health care (the act that was passed was essentially the same one he ran on, with the individual mandate added in), afgahnistan (he promised a “surge” and then a withdrawal timetable, both of which has happened), and appears to be doing for iraq (he promised a withdrawal timetable which has been followed to the letter so far–at least the version of the timetable he endorsed as a candidate in october 2008). there are also a lot of lower profile things that he promised and did (like fixing the medicare “donut hole” and increasing the VA budget) don’t get me wrong, he also broke a lot of promises (e.g. extending the bush tax cut for only people earning under $200k, create a fund to prevent foreclosures). i have no idea whether obama is significantly better or worse at keeping promises than any of his predecessors. there’s also an issue of how to measure what promises he kept.

    polifact has a “obameter” that tries to do just that, but it has some methodological problems as it sometimes gives him points for “promises kept” by slicing apart different elements of obama’s campaign promises (for example, obama gets a “promises kept” mark for “extending bush tax credit for low income people” and ending the tax cut for high income people is counted as “in the works” when actually what he did was extend the cuts across the board). that kind of slicing has a tendency to inflate obama’s ratings.

    For example, focusing on restoring to health the banks that wrecked the economy rather than on jobs programs for the millions of newly unemployed Americans was an appallingly bad decision.

    i agree, well sort of agree. i at least think his handling of the economy has been pretty bad. the banking system was collapsing when he took office. had he let it collapse, the unemployment would have been worse. so i think he should have nationalized the banks (at least the big ones) rather than just bailing them out and then focused on jobs (which he sort of did, but then dropped it after the 2009 stimulus package was passed)

    I don’t know what union officials you do business with. I only know that many rank-and-file union members in my hometown and around the country have appeared at Occupy sites to express solidarity with protesters who are disgusted because Obama and Congress are joined at the hip with corporate chiefs and bank CEOs, and completely indifferent to the plight of ordinary Americans.

    i deal with both union officials and rank-and-file members. most of my work is representing rank and file members when they are fired and are trying to get their job back. but in any case, what you said doesn’t contradict anything i said. i never said union members aren’t in favor of the occupy protests (my clients are involved in them in both NY and philly). and they are definitely upset about the president’s pro-corporate policies.

    my point is that obama is not 100% pro-corporate in the sense that president bush was. the people who argue that he is an ideological corporatists always seem to ignore obama’s labor appointees, the appointees that most affect my work. i find that blind spot to be rather frustrating as i have dealt with bush labor appointees whose entire purpose is to undermine the laws they are supposed to enforce. that has not been my experience with obama appointees. the labor appointments tend to be highly qualified lawyer who come out of representing the labor movement. that’s not at all a pro-corporate thing to do. and that’s why obama’s general counsel to the NLRB is pursuing that boeing case that has the right so up in arms.

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