Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Obama Backs Bush On Bagram Detainees

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, human rights, law, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on February 21, 2009

Reuters

20080222-bush-obamaWASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration on Friday told a federal judge it would not deviate from the Bush administration’s position that detainees held at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan have no right to sue in U.S. courts.

In one of his first acts in office, President Barack Obama ordered the closure within one year of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, which has been widely criticized by rights groups and foreign governments. About 245 people are currently held at Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon.

However, Obama has not yet decided what to do about the makeshift prison at the U.S. military base in Bagram, where the U.S. government is holding more than 600 prisoners, or whether to continue work on a $60 million prison complex there.

In late January, Obama directed a task force to study the government’s overall detainee policy and report back to him in six months.

But the new administration faced a February 20 deadline to tell U.S. District Court Judge John Bates whether it would “refine” the Bush administration’s position on four men being held at Bagram who have filed suit against their detention.

In a brief filing with the court on Friday, the Justice Department said it would stick to the previous government’s position, which argued the four men — who have been detained at Bagram for over six years — had no right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court.

Barbara Olshansky, lead counsel for three of the four detainees and a visiting professor at Stanford Law School, said she was deeply disappointed that the Obama administration had decided to “adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people’s human rights.”

She said she hoped that the Obama administration was merely signalling it was still working on its position regarding the detainee issue.

The U.S. District Court held a hearing in early January on four separate challenges filed on behalf of four detainees taken to Bagram from outside Afghanistan.

At the hearing, Bush administration lawyers argued that Bagram detainees were different from those held at Guantanamo, and could pose a security threat if released.

After Obama’s executive order indicating changes to the government’s detention policy for Guantanamo, the district court asked the new administration if it wished to change its position on the prisoners at Bagram.

Now that the government has responded, the federal judge is expected to rule in coming weeks on whether his court has jurisdiction to hear the cases.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Todd Eastham)

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AP

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention. The filing shocked human rights attorneys.

“The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we’d hoped,” said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing a detainee at the Bagram Airfield. “We all expected better.”

The Supreme Court last summer gave al-Qaida and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq, courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released.

Three months after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Guantanamo Bay, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington. Court filings alleged that the U.S. military had held them without charges, repeatedly interrogating them without any means to contact an attorney. Their petition was filed by relatives on their behalf since they had no way of getting access to the legal system.

The military has determined that all the detainees at Bagram are “enemy combatants.” The Bush administration said in a response to the petition last year that the enemy combatant status of the Bagram detainees is reviewed every six months, taking into consideration classified intelligence and testimony from those involved in their capture and interrogation.

After Barack Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush’s legal argument. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the filing speaks for itself.

“They’ve now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law,” said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees.

The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a military action. The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

The government also said if the Bagram detainees got access to the courts, it would allow all foreigners captured by the United States in conflicts worldwide to do the same.

It’s not the first time that the Obama administration has used a Bush administration legal argument after promising to review it. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a review of every court case in which the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege, a separate legal tool it used to have lawsuits thrown out rather than reveal secrets.

The same day, however, Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter cited that privilege in asking an appeals court to uphold dismissal of a suit accusing a Boeing Co. subsidiary of illegally helping the CIA fly suspected terrorists to allied foreign nations that tortured them.

Letter said that Obama officials approved his argument.

Will Obama Institute a New Kind of Preventive Detention for Terrorist Suspects?

Posted in law, torture by allisonkilkenny on February 20, 2009

Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

“We don’t own the problem,” Greg Craig, the White House counsel, says. “But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” (The New Yorker)

“We don’t own the problem,” Greg Craig, the White House counsel, says. “But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” (The New Yorker)

The last “enemy combatant” being detained in America is incarcerated at the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina—a tan, low-slung building situated amid acres of grassy swampland. The prisoner, known internally as EC#2, is an alleged Al Qaeda sleeper agent named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. He has been held in isolation in the brig for more than five years, although he has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. Under rules established by the Bush Administration, suspected terrorists such as Marri were denied the legal protections traditionally afforded by the Constitution. Unless the Obama Administration overhauls the nation’s terrorism policies, Marri—who claims that he is innocent—will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. 

On September 10, 2001, Marri, a citizen of Qatar, who is now forty-three, came to America with his family. He had a student visa, and his ostensible purpose was to study computer programming at a small university in Peoria, Illinois. That December, he was arrested as a material witness in an investigation of the September 11th attacks. However, when Marri was on the verge of standing trial, in June, 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the military to seize him and hold him indefinitely. The Bush Administration contended that America was in a full-fledged war against terrorists, and that the President could therefore invoke extraordinary executive powers to detain Marri until the end of hostilities, on the basis of still secret evidence. That day, Marri was put on a military jet to Charleston, and since then he has been living as the only prisoner in an eighty-bed high-security wing of the brig, with no visits from family, friends, or the media.

Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who has taken the lead role in Marri’s legal defense, says that the Bush Administration’s decision to leave him in sustained isolation was akin to stranding him on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he told me. In 2005, Hafetz challenged the constitutionality of Marri’s imprisonment. A lower court affirmed the government’s right to detain him indefinitely. After several appeals, the case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in April. Hafetz calls the Marri case a pivotal test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by an American President.

The Court’s calendar requires the Obama Administration to file a reply to the challenge by March 23rd. Unless some kind of diversionary action is taken—such as sending Marri home to Qatar, or working out a plea agreement—the Court’s schedule will likely force the Obama Administration to offer quick answers to a host of complicated questions about its approach to fighting terrorism.

John Bellinger III, who served as the counsel to the State Department under President Bush, says of officials in the Obama Administration, “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush Administration position, and keep holding Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.”

Among the issues to be decided, Hafetz says, is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian. Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the President?” Hafetz wants the Supreme Court to rule that indefinite executive detention is illegal, and he hopes that Obama will withdraw Bush’s executive order labelling Marri an enemy combatant, and issue a new one classifying him as a civilian. This shift would allow Marri either to be charged with crimes or to be released.

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