The Talking Dog

May 15, 2009, Full About

And so, the Obama Administration completes this week of full-about-toward-tyranny, by announcing the intention to resume trials of GTMO detainees by military commissions. As I've said recently, I'm more disappointed than surprised; former GTMO prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld, frankly, saw the wind blowing this way in my interview with him, insofar as he made a number of suggested improvements and procedures for the commissions to make them fair (something Col. Vandeveld, responsible for around a third of outstanding commission prosecutions, concluded was impossible under the system as he found it).

The devil remains in the details; supposedly, there will be preclusion of coerced testimony and "some restrictions" on hearsay... though, one wonders why the Administration would bother adopting a policy that candidate Obama railed against during the campaign for questionable benefits (i.e. convictions would presumably be harder to obtain than under the kangaroo court rules of the Bush Administration).

Perhaps, the President is showing "pragmatism"... perhaps Macchiavellian grandmaster cravenness in support of a broader goal... perhaps this is a massive misdirection, as he doesn't really care anyway, while he does his grandmaster moves of imposing single-payer some kind of better health-care plan, and deficit spending and stimulusing and sh*t... Or maybe he's willing to go with the flow, and ignore the simple reality: we're holding a bunch of mostly innocent nobodies, some of whom underwent vile and unforgivable tortures at the behest and sanction of our highest government officials (officials who will almost certainly evade accountability for those vile and unforgivable tortures that they directed, tortures, it seems, not for acquiring "actionable intelligence," but for the purpose of gaining traction for entry into an unjustified, discretionary war of opportunity that has killed countless thousands, maimed countless tens of thousands, displaced millions, and bankrupted our treasury... but I digress...)

The scorecard speaks for itself: 240 men still at GTMO, only one of whom has been convicted of a crime, and that, after standing mute at his prior commission trial under the old and lousy system (the system that the Obama Administration has promised to replace; two others, convicted under the old and lousy commission system, were convicted of crimes deemed sufficiently unimportant by military judges and juries to have been released and repatriated). Of the remaining 239 men, 29 men have had habeas corpus petitions reach decision, and of those, 25 have been found to be held unlawfully, or 86.2%; extrapolating that to all of the 239 men takes us to 206 held unlawfully, 33 held lawfully... interestingly, of course, this number-- well within the two to three dozen range, including the "14 high value detainees"... has been a more or less consistent estimate I have heard or read about from numerous sources. [We'll leave out the nearly 500 men released by the Bush Administration, only two of whom had trials (both convicted, btw, as noted above, but still released). ]

Of course, even this two or three dozen guess may be deceptively high, because the four detainees found not to be unlawfully held were so determined by Judge Richard Leon who, despite being the first judge to grant habeas petitions and the first judge whose habeas petitions resulted in release, has still been more willing to accept broad assertions of legality of detentions than any other judge, Democrat or Republican appointed alike, that has decided these petitions to date. So, that said, even this 25-30 may be high; indeed, the 14 "high value" detainees... may not be what the no-credibility Bush Administration has told us they are. [Honestly, boys and girls... when has Dick Cheney ever told us the truth about anything? Why should we believe him ever, on anything? I mean... you tell me?]

Anyway, there you have it. The grand plans to close GTMO in one year... are unclear at best, unless we pick up the pace of releases (detainee Boumediene was just returned to France, thereby doubling detainees released during the Obama era, to a pathetic two.) Not that anyone who didn't support President Obama cares; the only people disappointed by all this are those who, of course, did support the President during the campaign, and looked forward to a restoration of respect for the rule of law.

Well, what can you do? Maybe the Obama Administration will screw around some more with an additional stay request while it figures out what it is doing. And men already arbitrarily held for years for no reason, while their own lives continue to be interminably disturbed and American prestige, reputation and respect for law continue to languish (and terrorists continue to have a potent recruiting tool)... yes, that's a good bet... I'm betting on more screwing around.

This has been... "Full About."

Update (5-17-09): What Frank Rich said.