FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Obama’s New Euphemism

The Bush administration will no doubt be remembered for torture, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib, as well as for catchy euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation” and histrionic catch-phrases like “the Global War on Terror.”

The Obama administration has introduced a new lexicon that includes words like “fairness,” “values,” and “the Constitution.” But there are worrying signs, as the new government’s policies develop, that its change in vocabulary is more striking than its change in ideas.

President Obama did make immediate and crucial reforms in barring torture and closing CIA “black sites.” Unfortunately, the White House hasn’t shown similar leadership in ending the practice of indefinite detention without charge, a central and defining Bush-era abuse.

In a high-profile national security speech he gave in May, President Obama asserted that the military prison at Guantanamo held some number of terrorism suspects who could not be convicted of a crime, but who were nonetheless too dangerous to release. According to a report in the Washington Post on Saturday, the Obama administration has now drafted an executive order that would allow such prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge.

To disguise its plans for relying on a practice that is more characteristic of repressive governments than of constitutional democracies, the Obama administration has even invented its own euphemism. In his May speech, President Obama spoke only of “prolonged” detention, not of indefinite detention, or preventive detention, or detention without charge.

The label is new, but what of the substance behind it? To the many prisoners at Guantanamo who’ve already been held for more than seven years, “prolonged” may be to detention what “enhanced” was to interrogation.

Four Reasons for the Obama Administration to Rethink its Plans

It is not too late for President Obama to change course, and the reasons to do so are compelling.

1. Indefinite detention without charge is unjust, unconstitutional, and inconsistent with US law and traditions. American society has long dealt with dangerous people through criminal prosecution before competent, independent and impartial courts. US law provides ample grounds to prosecute and imprison anyone who has taken even a small step toward committing an act of terrorism.

Preventive detention, which allows imprisonment based on the suspicion that someone will take dangerous action in the future, is a radical departure from this tradition.

2. Indefinite detention without charge will bring Guantanamo on shore. The fight to close Guantanamo was meant to end the practice, unprecedented in US history, of detaining suspects arrested outside of a traditional armed conflict and holding them for years without charge or trial.

By bringing the practice of indefinite detention without charge onto US soil, the Obama administration would be closing Guantanamo in name only.

3. US reliance on indefinite detention without charge will embolden repressive governments elsewhere. Indefinite detention without charge is a hallmark of governments like China, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia, each of which hold hundreds in preventive detention, as did apartheid-era South Africa. If the United States were to continue to bypass accepted criminal justice rules, it would encourage repressive governments like these.

Already, several authoritarian rulers have pointed to US abuses at Guantanamo to justify their own actions. In Libya, notably, head of state Mu’ammar Qaddafi bragged to the Libyan public during his 2002 address to the nation that he was treating terrorist suspects “just like America is treating [them].”

4. US reliance on indefinite detention without charge will reinforce the terrorist narrative.

Holding detainees without charge as members of an enemy force risks elevating their status. Terrorists want to be seen as warriors, not criminals, and they use that status to recruit more “fighters” to their cause. A good example is admitted al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who proudly embraced the designation of combatant during administrative hearings at Guantanamo, using it to compare himself to George Washington.

Far better to have fair and independent court proceedings that will stigmatize such men as terrorists, murderers and criminals.

Fort Leavenworth Could Be the New Guantanamo

President Obama criticized Guantanamo when he was running for office, but he risks replicating it now. Obama’s Guantanamo may have a different name—it may be called Fort Leavenworth or Camp Pendleton—but if it holds terrorist suspects for years without charge, its meaning will be the same.

Whether established by executive order or congressional legislation, a policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial is wrong. As a world leader and constitutional law scholar, President Obama should think hard before taking any further step to institutionalize the discredited practice that made Guantanamo such a stain on the reputation of the United States.

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York and Paris.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail