They’re getting the Benghazi band back together

They're getting the Benghazi band back together

by digby

And they're playing the same old tune:

In a joint statement on Saturday by Graham and McCain and fellow Republicans Senator Kelly Ayotte and Congressman Peter King, they said: "The suspect, based upon his actions, clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status. We do not want this suspect to remain silent … We should be focused on gathering intelligence from this suspect right now that can help our nation understand how this attack occurred and what may follow. That should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete."
"We do not want this suspect to remain silent." How do they expect to make sure he doesn't, I wonder? After all, the Miranda warning is designed to let suspects know that whatever they say could be used against them at trial. But staying "silent" is something that each individual chooses to do or not do based upon his own willingness to cooperate with authorities. And if they don't want to cooperate, we don't believe those authorities can "make them". These government officials seem to think that as an "enemy combatant" they can. And the legal rulings on these matters over the years have big enough holes to drive a truck through if they choose to do it.

It should be noted that the Obama administration retired the "enemy combatant"  phrase some time ago.  It doesn't have a clear legal definition and is now more or less a political term of art. But they did not discard the underlying logic:

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, "It's symbolically significant that he's dropped the term 'enemy combatant,' but the power to detain individuals within the 'indefinite detention without charge' paradigm remains substantially intact."

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama's team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration. Late Thursday, it urged an appeals court to reject a lawsuit brought by four Britons who alleged they were tortured at Guantanamo. In another case, involving the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which alleges it was the target of illegal government electronic surveillance, Justice Department lawyers have asserted defenses similar to those made under President George W. Bush.

The Obama administration's legal changes came under pressure from federal judges, who are presiding over lawsuits brought by about 200 detainees. The detainees won the right to challenge their confinements in a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year.

The Justice Department had recently argued it wanted to take a case-by-case approach to applying definitions.

But the judges said that was not fair to the detainees and their attorneys, especially because full-blown hearings could begin as soon as next month.

"The definition of the central legal term 'enemy combatant' is not a moving target, varying from case to case, and the court intends to rule on that definition before the parties reach a critical point in these proceedings," Judge John D. Bates wrote in a February order seeking the Justice Department's definition. At least two other judges had requested the government to provide them with the same definition by yesterday.

Another judge, Richard J. Leon, last year applied the "enemy combatant" definition used by the military, which required officials to find only that a detainee supported the Taliban, al-Qaeda or associated groups.

He has ordered that six detainees be freed but that four others can remain in custody. In one case, he ruled that preparing meals for the Taliban was enough to justify continued detention. It is not clear how the Obama administration's new standard will affect detainees in similar situations.

This was later clarified a bit by the 2012 Defense authorization bill, and not in a good way:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Codifying Chateau d'If

by digby

I think one of the most stunning aspects of the administration's decision not to veto an historic expansion of government power to imprison even its own citizens indefinitely and without due process is the context. Sure, we live in a very dangerous world. But we've been living in one at least since the advent of of The Bomb and the last I heard we were picking off Ad Qaeda members three at a time. The fact that this is happening with the war in Iraq wound down and Afghanistan scheduled to do so as well is what's odd.

Ginny Sloan of the Constitution Project put it well:

But what will we say to future generations if the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) becomes law? That legislation contains a provision that authorizes the president to indefinitely imprison, without a criminal charge or court hearing, any suspected terrorist who is captured within the United States -- including American citizens.

It is difficult to imagine a greater attack on one of the most basic of individual freedoms protected by our great Constitution. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), "The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive."

If members of Congress choose -- for the first time in our nation's history -- to codify a system of indefinite detention without charge and authorize such confinement on the basis of suspicion alone, they will do so with their eyes wide open. The attacks of 9/11 are now more than ten years old. Although our troops are still engaged in Afghanistan, the fog of war has long since lifted.

Indefinite detention will now be law, not some emergency measure that history will judge to have been a mistake made in a crisis. It is a well thought out codification of certain views that have become commonplace in American society --- that "terrorists" (to be defined by whomever sits in the White House) are not to be allowed the due process allowed to other human beings because our government just *knows* they are so dangerous we cannot even take the chance that they won't be found guilty. That turns the rule of law on its head.

Adam Serwer has been following this story for Mother Jones and described the "changes" this way:

The conference version of the bill gives the White House so much room to maneuver around the "mandatory" nature of the military detention provisions that Congress can argue they've given the administration the "flexibility" it needs to fight terrorism effectively. At the same time, the bill creates a presumption of military custody for foreign nationals suspected of terrorism where there was none before.

That means next time a foreign national gets pulled off a plane with their underpants on fire, and the administration doesn't throw him in a brig somewhere, elected officials can run to the microphones and express their frustration that the White House is defying congressional will.

I think that's a long shot, don't you? What administration is not going to simply throw them in the brig rather than "defy congressional will" and try them in a civilian court? It won't happen.

Instead, we will see "terrorists" (however they're defined) disappeared into a military justice system indefinitely, just as those Gitmo prisoners, many of them innocent of any serious crime, have been left to moulder in prison basically forever. As Serwer noted, "the transfer restrictions effectively turn Gitmo into the Chateu d'If." (I have used the same reference many times, calling it "The Count of Monte Cristo effect.")

The horror of indefinite detention, often in solitary confinement by capricious decision with no due process is one of the greater horrors of the imagination (to me anyway.) Consider what we've already done:

One spring day during his three and a half years as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla experienced a break from the monotony of his solitary confinement in a bare cell in the brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston,South Carolina.

That day, Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert whom the Bush administration had accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack and had detained without charges, got to go to the dentist.

“Today is May 21,” a naval official declared to a camera videotaping the event. “Right now we’re ready to do a root canal treatment on Jose Padilla, our enemy combatant.”

Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.


Now lawyers for Mr. Padilla, 36, suggest that he is unfit to stand trial. They argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said Sunday that the military disputes Mr. Padilla’s accusations of mistreatment. And, in court papers, prosecutors deny “in the strongest terms” the accusations of torture and say that “Padilla’s conditions of confinement were humane and designed to ensure his safety and security.”

“His basic needs were met in a conscientious manner, including Halal (Muslim acceptable) food, clothing, sleep and daily medical assessment and treatment when necessary,” the government stated. “While in the brig, Padilla never reported any abusive treatment to the staff or medical personnel.”

In the brig, Mr. Padilla was denied access to counsel for 21 months. Andrew Patel, one of his lawyers, said his isolation was not only severe but compounded by material and sensory deprivations. In an affidavit filed Friday, he alleged that Mr. Padilla was held alone in a 10-cell wing of the brig; that he had little human contact other than with his interrogators; that his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door; that windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and that he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran, “as part of an interrogation plan.”

Mr. Padilla’s situation, as an American declared an enemy combatant and held without charges by his own government, was extraordinary and the conditions of his detention appear to have been unprecedented in the military justice system.

Philip D. Cave, a former judge advocate general for the Navy and now a lawyer specializing in military law, said, “There’s nothing comparable in terms of severity of confinement, in terms of how Padilla was held, especially considering that this was pretrial confinement.”

Padilla was famously thrown back into the civilian system when the Supreme Court overruled the decision under which he had been held in those conditions. The damage had already been done. Indefinite detention, particularly with solitary confinement, for anyone, American or not, is a form of torture.

I think dday's analysis of why this happened is probably correct:

Remember that the White House has little problem with indefinite military detention. They just want to be able to dictate when it gets used and on whom. So they obviously see enough flexibility here to carry out unconstrained intelligence gathering and detention policies.

The part at the end, where they hope and pray that Congress will go back and fix the bill if it ever becomes a problem, is just nonsense. And the bill overall is ripe for abuse. The White House simply didn’t want to take the political hit for vetoing a bill that “supports the troops.” And they weren’t aroused enough by the thought of indefinite military detentions to mount any serious opposition to it.

The status quo remains in practice and the symbolism of codifying indefinite detention is probably a price they are willing to pay. The word is that the National Security types were overruled by the political people, but at the end of the day the only people who are worried about this for the long term are a bunch of shrill civil libertarians who are watching some very basic human rights and constitutional principles be eroded even years after the fog of war has cleared.

And those of you who trust that the Obama administration will not misuse this discretion should not be soothed. This law will remain on the books long after he is gone. How do you suppose the first Tea Party president will interpret it?

I was very sure that no administration would find it in their interest to defy the sort of bloodlust that usually permeates these debates. But I'm hopeful that I'm wrong this time. When he signed this bill the president said:
"I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed . . . I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists."
The one thing this suspect has going for him is that he's a legitimately naturalized citizen which, while it should have no bearing on anything (the constitution applies to everyone on American soil), which means that while they can throw him in prison indefinitely under section 1021, they cannot try him by military tribunal. They still need to be mindful of the normal rule of law, even if he's called an "enemy combatant" (a term that has no legal meaning --- the Obama administration doesn't use it) if they hope to have a trial and a resolution. So, we live in hope.

On the other hand, he does have a ferrin sounding name and he wan't born here --- and the national security psycho caucus obviously doesn't find the fact of his citizenship to be a hindrance, so who knows?

This is going to be a big test of the Obama administration. I'm fervently hoping they do the right thing here. Their early endorsement of an indefinite detention policy is worrisome, but I'm hopeful they wil understand that they simply must come down on the right side of this one for the sake of out constitutional foundation.

*Oh, and by the way: JJ McCain, the flyboy POW, obviously sold his soul to Satan somewhere along the line. This is a low point, even for him.