Monday, May 28, 2012

What remains of American law?

The rule of law is what people fought for in the Revolution (though the Constitution enshrined slavery), in the Civil War which finally did in slavery, and in World War II against Nazism. It is the mark of freedom.

A free regime is one in which every human is recognized as free (no slaveries or sexisms or heterosexisms). It is one in which habeas corpus is upheld, in which each prisoner gets a day in court and is not subjected to torture. World War II vets have expressed pride that the US did not, as the Japanese and German fascists did, torture prisoners (or slaughter them).

But often, American patriotism seems connected with the opposite. In the Bush period, the little metal flags sported by officials accompanied the open propagation of torture, the rule of a police state. And what happened to Arabs, like the red crescent worker Lakhdar Boumedienne, was linked to the prison system in the United States (Charles Graner, a former prison guard locked up for Abu Ghraib as the scapegoat for Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez and Bush, had learned his techniques of sexual abuse by practicing them on black men in Florida). The massiveness of the American system of imprisonment is revealed in the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s 8 part series on the biggest prison system in the world, the one in Louisiana. This is a for profit system in which the rule of law has been deep-sixed – see here and Charles Blow’s startling column on "Plantations, Prisons, and Profits" Saturday in the New York Times here. It is revealed in Michelle Alexander’s account of the New Jim Crow – 2.3 million prisoners in the US (25% of the world’s prison population) and 5.1 million more on probation. It is revealed in the massive unemployment and foreclosure statistics of the current economic crisis, in debt-slavery for education to the banks (so much for democratic education), and in the revelations of the 99%.

Just as freedom at home and its propagation are linked (to fight for freedom against the Nazis in World War II and mobilize black soldiers among the recruits helped lead to Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement – freedom is “chain connected” in John Rawls’s phrase), so, conversely, are oppressions at home and abroad. The treatment of prisoners – in American history in the 13th amendment’s permitting the enslavement of convicted prisoners and the leasing of convict labor through the late 19th and into the 20 the century; see Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name and here – and the practice of lynching under segregation was linked to the impoverishment of poor whites in the South (and throughout the country). And the abuse of prisoners of war today (in the so-called war on terror) is tied to the prison-probation complex and the impoverishment of the many.

For 7 years Lakhdar Boumediene was terrorism "suspect" 10005 and tortured by American authorities at Guantanamo (an Algerian who helped orphans in Sarajevo):

“An aid worker handling orphans in Sarajevo, Mr. Boumediene (pronounced boom-eh-DIEN) found himself swept up in the panic that followed Sept. 11, 2001. He likens himself to a caged cat, toyed with and tormented by fate and circumstance.

‘I learned patience,’ Mr. Boumediene, 46, said. He is a private man, trim and square-jawed and meticulously kempt, his eyes set in deep gray hollows. ‘There is no other choice but patience.’

The United States government has never acknowledged any error [let alone crime!} in detaining Mr. Boumediene, though a federal judge ordered his release, for lack of evidence, in 2008.”

Lakhdar fought his torturers through a law suit which bears his name now. And he went on hunger strike for the last 28 months of his imprisonment and was force-fed (how Gandhi would have been treated by the Bush administration/CIA if they had had him and not the British). What he did was civil disobedience to uphold the rule of law. And the American force-feeding, too, was torture…

Today Boumedienne is trying to put together a life, being an innocent but having been "judged" and tortured by the CIA at Bush's command far from any field of battle. He cannot now get a job. In the black hole of Guantanamo, his resume, helping orphans until 2001, is a black hole afterwards.

Most of those at Guantanamo were innocent. A few were guilty of actual or plotted crimes against American citizens, but torture was not a legal or moral or practical (it elicits what the torturer wants to hear, not useful information) way to deal with them. See "What the torturer knew" here.

No torture was involved in Obama taking out the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden.

The war criminals at Guantanamo were mainly the cowards in the White House, and, sadly, today the Democrats who, by protecting them, become accomplices.

I am for Truth and Reconciliation hearings for anyone who would tell the truth about these crimes, though the offenses committed, including the murder of over 100 prisoners in American custody according to the Pentagon, are, under American law, possible death sentence cases (it would be good to become a more civilized culture, one which barred capital punishment, a long way up from here…). The reason Obama doesn’t permit independent bipartisan hearings, let alone an independent prosecutor, however, is that the case in the public record against each of the principals is unfortunately a “slam-dunk,” legally speaking (with the likely exception of Colin Powell who seems to have opposed it in White House meetings – though there is yet no public record released beyond Cheney okaying the torture and Rice urging Geoge Tenet to go "do it," i.e. torture supposedly to get “information”).

Boumediene is a courageous and honorable man trying to put his life together on this memorial day, living in what the article calls quiet anger. He is symbolically the man in the iron mask – and everyone who hears his and all the stories must come to terms with the “America” which was (until Obama’s election) the most hated nation in the world. In a 2003 Pew Poll Bush was deemed the most dangerous tyrant in the world by 84%. Saddam Hussein 7%, Kim Jong-il 6%, other 1%. Obama now approaches these figures in the middle east.

One must pray that Boumedienne can cope. He has seen the enemies of freedom.

It is what soldiers sometimes do (though he is not a soldier). It is a courage that this day might also honor in a more courageous and freedom-loving country. I heard Tom Brokaw on AMC barking for pay about the well-beloved war movies that the History channel and AMC are showing all day. We will honor our warriors, he said.

We should honor and work to heal our soldiers. But too many crimes have been committed by the occupying armies in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the US - in the person of Romney and most of the Republicans but fortunately Obama still stands in the way - and Isreal now threaten Iran) to feel that Brokaw is anything other than a propagandist. Jonathan Shays’ books, Achilles in Vietnam, Odysseus in America, are now read even in the military to get a grip on the terrible consequences, for the soldiers, of war. Ptsd is now part of our vocabulary, the tip of an iceberg…

The soldiers here who hurled their medals at the NATO leaders this week are the genuine patriots of today.

But it would be a country that learned the lesson of Boumediene that could celebrate today with grace. That lesson is not only that he deserved habeas corpus – the best Supreme Court decision in recent times (one which Chief Justice Roberts naturally voted against) and one that looks increasingly like an outlier in that this Court consistently abridges the decency that underpins democracy – but that torturing disgraces the cause of freedom and what the soldiers fight for. See here.

It is honesty about Boumedienne and the resolve never again to do it which would mark such a day. It is honesty about the Iraq and Afghanistan occupation – why are only 27% of the American people today in favor of the war in/occupation of Afghanistan?* – which would mark such a day.

It is, sadly, not this celebration.

After Guantánamo, Starting Anew, in Quiet Anger
New York Times
Published: May 25, 2012

Nice, France

Lakhdar Boumediene was kept at Guantánamo from January 2002 until May 15, 2009 as terrorism suspect No. 10005, when he was released and put aboard a plane to France.

IT was James, a thickset American interrogator nicknamed “the Elephant,” who first told Lakhdar Boumediene that investigators were certain of his innocence, that two years of questioning had shown he was no terrorist, but that it did not matter, Mr. Boumediene says.

The interrogations would continue through what ended up being seven years, three months, three weeks and four days at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

An aid worker handling orphans in Sarajevo, Mr. Boumediene (pronounced boom-eh-DIEN) found himself swept up in the panic that followed Sept. 11, 2001. He likens himself to a caged cat, toyed with and tormented by fate and circumstance.

“I learned patience,” Mr. Boumediene, 46, said. He is a private man, trim and square-jawed and meticulously kempt, his eyes set in deep gray hollows. “There is no other choice but patience.”

The United States government has never acknowledged any error in detaining Mr. Boumediene, though a federal judge ordered his release, for lack of evidence, in 2008.

The government did not appeal, a Defense Department spokesman noted, though he declined to answer further questions about Mr. Boumediene’s case. A State Department representative declined to discuss the case as well, except to point to a Justice Department statement announcing Mr. Boumediene’s transfer to France, in 2009.

More than a decade has passed since his arrest in Bosnia, since American operatives shackled his feet and hands, dropped a black bag over his head and flew him to Guantánamo. Since his release three years ago, Mr. Boumediene, an Algerian by birth, has lived anonymously in the south of France, quietly enraged but determined to start anew and to resist the pull of that anger.

He calls Guantánamo a “black hole.” Islam carried him through, he says. In truth, though, he still cannot escape it, and is still racked by questions. “I think back over everything in my life, all the stages, who my friends were, who I did this or that with, who I had a simple coffee with,” Mr. Boumediene said. “I do not know, even now, why I was at Guantánamo.”

There were early accusations of a plot to bomb the American Embassy in Sarajevo; he lived in that city with his family, working for the Red Crescent, the Muslim branch of the Red Cross. President George W. Bush hailed his arrest in a State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002.

In time, those accusations disappeared, Mr. Boumediene says, replaced by questions about his work with Muslim aid groups and suggestions that those groups financed Islamic terrorism. According to a classified detainee assessment from April 2008, published by WikiLeaks, investigators believed that he was a member of Al Qaeda and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. Those charges, too, later vanished.

In a landmark case that bears Mr. Boumediene’s name, the Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed the right of Guantánamo detainees to challenge their imprisonment in court. Mr. Boumediene petitioned for his release.

In court, the government’s sole claim was that Mr. Boumediene had intended to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against the United States. A federal judge rejected that charge as unsubstantiated, noting that it had come from a single unnamed informer. Mr. Boumediene arrived in France on May 15, 2009, the first of two non-French former detainees to settle here.

Mr. Boumediene retreated into himself at Guantánamo, he says. He speaks little of his past now; with few exceptions, his neighbors know him only as a husband and a father. He lives with the wife and two daughters from whom he was once taken, and a son born here two years ago. More than vengeance, or even justice, he wants a return to normalcy.

He lives at the whim of the French state, though. France has permitted Mr. Boumediene to settle in public housing in Nice, where his wife has family, but he is not a French citizen, nor has he been granted asylum or permanent residence. His Algerian and Bosnian passports, misplaced by the American authorities, have not been reissued, leaving him effectively stateless.

Money comes in a monthly transfer to his French bank account. He does not know who, exactly, pays it. (The terms of his release have not been made public or revealed even to him.) He has been seeking work for years.

RECRUITERS typically scan his résumé with an air of approval, he said, until noting that it ends in 2001. He tells them that his is a “particular case,” that he spent time in prison. He avoids the word “Guantánamo,” he said, as it often stirs more fear than sympathy.

Mr. Boumediene arrived at Guantánamo on Jan. 20, 2002, nine days after the camp began operations. He was beaten on arrival, he said. Refusing food for the final 28 months of his detention, he was force-fed through a tube inserted up a nostril and down his throat, he said. There was a hole in the seat of the chair to which he was chained, sometimes clothed, sometimes not; as the liquid streamed into his stomach, his bowels often released.

He emerged gaunt, with wrists scarred from seven years of handcuffs, almost unable to walk without the shackles to which he had grown accustomed, he said. Crowds terrified him, as did rooms with closed doors, said Nathalie Berger, a doctor who worked with Mr. Boumediene shortly after his release.

Dr. Berger was moved, she said, by his equanimity and his “strength to live.”
“He has no hate for the American people,” she said, though Mr. Bush is another matter. Mr. Boumediene has been disappointed too by President Obama, who pledged to close Guantánamo but has not done so.

Born in the hills of northwestern Algeria, Mr. Boumediene served for two years in the Algerian military before following a friend to Pakistan in 1990, to aid refugees of the Afghan civil war.

He found work as a proctor at an orphanage and school operated by a Kuwaiti aid organization, a post that investigators later seized on as evidence of ties to terrorism.

A man identified as a director of the group, Zahid al-Shaikh, is the brother of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, who has been held at Guantánamo since 2006 and is now to be tried before a military court. Mr. Shaikh’s signature appeared on Mr. Boumediene’s contract, but the two had little interaction, Mr. Boumediene said.

He moved to Yemen, studying at the French cultural center in Sana; fighting there drove him to Albania, where he worked for the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. Deadly riots erupted in 1997, and he received a transfer to Bosnia.
Violence seemed to trail him, his interrogators noted. He has come to understand their suspicions, he said.

In Nice, Mr. Boumediene has grown friendly with a neighbor, Babette. She brings him coffee, he said, and gifts for his young son. They share meals at Christmas and on Muslim holy days.

He feared she might no longer come if she knew his past. In January, though, it was the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and there was media coverage. Babette asked if it was true.

“I told her, ‘It’s fate, and it’s life,’ ” Mr. Boumediene said. She still comes to call, he said, and still calls him “my brother.”

“Little by little, now, there are people who know who I am,” he said. Some offer cautious words of encouragement, others their apologies.

“I do not know what the right reaction is,” he said, but he does like a reaction, just the same.

*See Anne Gearon, of the Associated Press, "Support for Afghan war at new low," The Denver Post, May 10, 2012, p. 15A.

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