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Mr. Obama, Tear Down This Prison!

From Glenn Greenwald’s “Unclaimed Territory” at

A federal district judge, Richard Leon, today ordered the Bush administration “forthwith” to release five Algerian detainees who have been held in Guantanamo without charges since January, 2002 — almost seven full years. The decision was based on the court’s finding that there was no credible evidence that the 5 detainees intended to take up arms against the U.S.

Even if President Obama closes the prison at Guantánamo, as he has repeatedly promised to do, it will still be far too late for those prisoners who were unjustly held without trial—without even having been formally charged with any crime. The question now is, can the US repair its damaged reputation?

Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote in a recent blog post here at

The torture program was an assault on the prohibition against torture and war crimes—But it was also and importantly an assault on law itself. Or as Scott Horton said in a recent Harpers article said: the administration waged war against the law itself. If laws can be broken with impunity today, they can and will be broken with impunity tomorrow. [Emphasis added.] Not just laws against torture and war crimes, but any and all laws; any and all limits on government.


Insuring that this never happens again and limiting government does just that: it limits. This is why criminal investigation and prosecution is necessary.

Sadly some anonymous Obama team members and Democrats in congress are reluctant to take this step. Some claim it is looking backwards. It is not. Investigations and prosecutions are our insurance that limits on government will be adhered to in the future.

Investigation and prosecution send the warning to the future: Don’t commit those acts again. You will be prosecuted.

Will there be prosecutions? It’s doubtful. But it’s clear something must be done to ensure this never happens again.

Here is a gut-wrenching account of what these detainees have endured (h/t Ondelette). The Bosnian Prosecutor who investigated their initial detention back in 2001 (which was effectuated at the behest of the U.S.) concluded they ought to be released, but the Bosnian Government succumbed to the pressure of the Bush administration and turned them over to the U.S. as they were being released (“hooded, shackled, and packed into waiting cars while their horrified families watched”), after which they were shipped to Guantanamo.

One of the detainees ordered released today had a wife who was pregnant at the time he was shipped to Guantanamo, who then gave birth to a daughter, now 6, whom he has never met. Another of the Bosnian-Algerians had an infant daughter at the time he was put in Guantanamo who died last year of congenital heart disease at the age of 6. Another of them “suffered months of facial paralysis from a brutal beating inflicted by Guantanamo camp soldiers.” And then there’s this, about one of the other detainees, Saber Lahmer:

When we last saw Saber in November, he was in his sixth month of solitary confinement. Since August, he has seen us, his legal team, twice and a psychiatrist on three brief occasions. For a few minutes each day, he sees the camp guards who bring his meals. He has had no other human contact. The glaring lights in his cell are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When we left the cell, we could hear Saber shouting — brief, truncated cries. We could not understand what he was saying.

According to Human Rights Watch, that detainee — “a university-educated father of two who once taught at the Islamic Cultural Center in Bosnia” — “continues to be housed 22 hours a day in a single cell, with nothing to occupy his time other than his Koran” and “now reports that he is going blind in his left eye, a result that he attributes to being housed in cells with fluorescent lights on 24 hours a day.”

We haven’t just imprisoned people with no evidence in cages for years. We’ve kept them encaged under often brutal and extreme conditions, many in unbroken solitary confinement for years. Today, a federal court ruled that for 5 of these men, there is no credible evidence that they did anything wrong, and if most of our political class — which supported the Military Commissions Act– had its way, they wouldn’t have even had this hearing at all.

Read the whole article here.

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