President Barack Obama has learned the ultimate ventriloquist’s trick: He has figured out a way to talk out of both sides of his mouth at once.
On the very same day that the Obama White House declared that it would be closing down George W. Bush’s secret torture prisons, the Obama Adminsitration declared its intention to disregard a district court ruling that prisoners at the American military base at Bagram, Afghanistan, have habeas corpus rights.
Incidents of torture at Bagram by agents of the U.S. government have been confirmed. Denying prisoners habeas corpus rights keeps their imprisonment a secret and places them beyond the reach of the law. So, President Obama’s action in continuing George W. Bush’s denial of habeas corpus to people imprisoned at Bagram establishes the base as a home to a secret torture prison. President Obama has announced no intention to close the Bagram prison, so how can we believe the White House’s claim that it is really closing all of Bush’s secret torture prisons?
We spent many years pushing back against George W. Bush’s unconstitutional revocation of habeas corpus rights under the Military Commissions Act. Now that it’s Barack Obama who is revoking habeas corpus using the Military Commissions Act, are we going to hold our tongues, just because President Obama is a Democrat?
No. No president who ignores the Constitution and revokes the right of habeas corpus can be trusted. President Obama has proven that he has no genuine respect for the Constitution that he swore to uphold and defend.
This issue doesn’t just matter to a few prisoners at Bagram. It affects us all. Keep in mind that many of the people imprisoned by the US military at Bagram were not captured within a field of battle at all. They were seized far from any combat, even outside of Afghanistan itself, often on the basis of hearsay and testimony given in return for cash rewards.
If President Obama maintains the Bagram prison as a place beyond the reach of law, then he places himself in a position beyond the reach of law. If President Obama maintains the Bagram prison as a place beyond the reach of habeas corpus, then he is also maintaining the power to wrongfully imprison anybody, even Americans, merely by shipping them off to Bagram. Unless a person is granted habeas corpus rights, after all, they never have the chance to prove that they are wrongfully imprisoned, or even that they are imprisoned at all.
President Obama is keeping Bagram as an oubliette, a dungeon where prisoners can be dumped and forgotten forever, away from the eyes of justice. The International Justice Network, representing prisoners at Bagram, has made the following apt comment about Barack Obama’s dark turn to follow George W. Bush’s policies of absolute power:
“The Justice Department’s announcement today that it intends to ignore the court’s ruling and continue the Bush administration’s policy of denying any semblance of due process to civilians held in U.S. custody for more than 6 years represents a particularly dark day in American history. Last January, we watched in awe as President Obama was sworn in with a solemn promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to recommit our nation to the rule of law and the international obligations that the prior administration had willfully disregarded.
Today, we must express our serious dismay, as President Obama disregards the law, tosses aside people’s human rights, and wields an illegitimate power to seize citizens of other nations from anywhere in the world, render them to foreign countries against their will, interrogate them indefinitely without charge, and deny them access to lawyers or any court of law. Though he has made many promises regarding the need for our country to rejoin the world community of nations, by filing this appeal, President Obama has taken on the defense of one of the Bush administration’s unlawful policies founded on nothing more than the idea that might makes right. In what now must be considered his own policy on detention and rendition, President Obama follows directly in the footsteps of his predecessor in claiming the right to assert unconstitutional and unchecked powers.”