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Another step towards fascism: “Silencing the Lawyers”

31 May 2010

Worth reading in full:  “Silencing the Lawyers“, Scott Horton, blog of Harper’s, 23 May 2010 — Excerpt:

A total of 779 prisoners have been held in Guantánamo in connection with the war on terror. Five hundred seventy-nine were released, most by the Bush Administration, a quiet recognition of errors made in the decisions to detain them.  A large number of those still detained are contesting their imprisonment through habeas corpus — under which the government must make a minimal showing that it has a reasonable basis for holding the prisoner. In roughly three-quarters of these cases so far (36 out of 50 decided), which are being heard before largely Republican-appointed, conservative federal judges in Washington, the court has found that the United States has no reason to hold the prisoner. That’s not surprising. In fact, we now know that 80% or more of the Guantánamo prisoners were captured not by American forces on or near a battlefield but rather by Afghan warlords and Pakistani security forces eager to collect reward money the United States was offering. So Ahmed the taxi driver and Mohammed the shepherd were whisked off to Gitmo.

What happened to the 600–800 Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders for whom the prison was originally conceived? We now have a pretty good idea. In the late fall of 2001, military operations in Afghanistan were successful, and Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership figures had fled to two last redoubts—the city of Kunduz in the northeast, and the Tora Bora region along the Pakistani frontier. But for reasons known only to him, Vice President Dick Cheney ordered a halt to the bombardment of Kunduz and opened an air corridor to allow the Pakistani military to airlift the Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders out of Kunduz. The maneuver was ridiculed by one U.S. military official present at the time as “Operation Evil Airlift.” The United States quickly moved to fill Gitmo with nobodies. With that fact now becoming painfully apparent, you’d think that Congress would be calling for an investigation into how original plans for Gitmo were botched — specifically how the Al Qaeda and Taliban figures for whom it was built evaded capture in the face of one of the most powerful military forces ever fielded in Afghanistan. That could well be one of the most significant “lessons learned” of the war.

Instead, influential Republicans in Congress are crying out for an investigation of the lawyers. Florida Republican Jeff Miller has secured a provision in the current defense appropriations act (PDF) requiring that the Defense Department’s inspector general “conduct an investigation of the conduct and practices of lawyers” who represent clients at Guantánamo if there is some reason to believe that they “interfered with the operations” at Gitmo or “violated any applicable policy of the Department.” Of course, as Steven Vladeck has explained, in the thinking of the Bush era, prisoners were to be held at Gitmo without access to attorneys or the ability to make legal arguments, so everything that the defense counsel did amounted to “interference with the operations” – starting with securing a series of Supreme Court decisions holding that those operations were illegal.

Miller explained the need for this provision in a blog post for the Heritage Foundation.

… Let’s decode Miller’s histrionics here. It’s about torture. … Congressman Miller is afraid that the truth of what happened to these prisoners will be fully exposed and that they may be proven innocent. He therefore instinctively wants to silence the lawyers who are putting the lie to his claims. But overcoming the legacy of Guantánamo has to start with learning the truth about what happened there. That may indeed be a painful experience for Miller and his colleagues, but their efforts to interfere with justice will only make the process longer and more painful.

Other posts about torture on the FM website

  1. Something every American should read, 25 March 2009
  2. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009
  3. So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009
  4. The Reverse Nuremberg Defense – “We were just giving orders“, 20 May 2009
  5. Our government does torture, but it is just like the treatment of young reporters by newspapers, 16 February 2010
  6. The US government at work, doing dark deeds in our name, 13 March 2010
  7. Reading about American torturers is a bummer. Let’s close our eyes and pretend it didn’t happen, and will not happen again., 22 March 2010
  8. An expert speaks to us about torture, 5 May 2010

Afterword

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