Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My conversation with Craig Thomas.

I've been talking with my senator, Craig Thomas, over e-mail. I don't have the initial message that I sent, but here's his initial message:
Good morning Aaron . . .
And thank you for passing along the article
regarding the treatment of enemy detainees
held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is good to
hear from you.
Guantanamo houses enemy combatants ranging
from terrorist trainers and recruiters to
bomb makers and terrorist financiers. They
are treated humanely and are properly housed,
fed and clothed. Their religious and dietary
needs are met, and their cases have all been
formally reviewed against criteria
established by the Enemy Combatant Status
Review Board.
All detainees are sent before a review board
to determine their statues, with specific
protocol determined by location. For
instance, detainees located at Guantanamo Boy
are initially sent before a Combatant Status
Review Tribunal. This tribunal reviews all
evidence presented concerning the detainee,
who can volunteer to participate in the
proceedings. Detainees at Guantanamo Bay
also have their statues reviewed annually in
a process called an Administrative Review
Board (ARB). In an ARB, the detainees have
the chance to argue their case against
continued detention before a board of three
U.S. military officers. The detainees' home
countries and families also have an
opportunity to present information to the
panel. The ARB's purpose is to determine if
each detainee is still a threat to the United
States or still holds intelligence value.
There are thr4ee possible outcomes from an
administrate review board: release, typically
in the detainee's home country; transfer of
custody to the government of the home
country; or continued detention at Guantanamo
The facilities provide a strategic
interrogation center where these combatants
can be questioned. Information gained from
these interrogations has saved the lives of
American and Coalition forces, as well as
thwarted threats posed to innocent civilians
in the United States and abroad.
The Administration, Congress and the military
have made it clear, as both a matter of
policy and through the strict prosecution of
offenders, that abuse or torture of detainees
is unacceptable. Credible allegations of
abuse are vigorously investigated and
individuals are held accountable for their
actions. As Americans, we must certainly
hold ourselves to higher standards of
conduct. I believe we must continue to make
good faith efforts to live up to these
standards while recognizing the difference
between what constitutes appropriate
interrogation methods and real abuse and
The enemy detainees being held at Guantanamo
are a very real threat to the United States.
I believe operations at Guantanamo have been
transparent, and in this time of war, I will
not support calls for its closure.
If you are interested in receiving more
information regarding the detainee review
process, I encourage you to visit the
Department of Defense website at:
www.defenselink.mil and click on the Detainee
Affairs link.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,
Aaron. I appreciate knowing your views and
hope this finds you well in Laramie.
My reply:

I'm sorry if this letter is long. I know that you are busy, but I am troubled by some of your claims and have some questions:

1. Why are the President and his administration arguing that the McCain torture amendment does not apply at Guantanamo? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/02/AR2006030202054.html) Even if an officer admitted that they tortured a detainee, the abused person has no access to any kind of fair and impartial court system to stop such abuse. How can you say that the President cares about prosecuting abuse when his actions say something different?

2. How come a DoD report admits that a full half of the people in Guantanamo aren't even accused of having committed any crime? Those documents admit that many of them were arrested for crimes that include possession of a firearm, wearing drab olive clothing, or owning a certain kind of wrist watch. (http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/foi/detainees/index.html

How do you explain these documents if your arguments about due process are correct? The ARB may have reviewed the status of the detainees, but it was unable to attach fifty-five percent of them with any crime, yet continues to hold them, perhaps in the vain hope that something will be discovered, something that flies in the face of everything that our nation believes in terms of criminal justice and the rights of the accused. This is the kind of behavior we expect to see in totalitarian nations, not the United States. If the process really works, as you claim it does, then when will these people be released? Will you do anything as a Senator to push for the release of people who we can't charge with any crime or act of hostility?

3. Why are the Pentagon and C.I.A. making plans to indefinitely imprison those people against whom we have no evidence? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41475-2005Jan1.html) In American courts, you can't even keep someone in prison for a year without evidence, much less hold them for their entire lives. It's as if all of these people have fallen into a legal black hole and have been stripped of any rights due to their status as neither prisoners of war nor people accused of actual crimes.

4. What's the deal with Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was denied his right to due process by decree of the executive? You would be up in arms if Clinton had done that to someone. What ever happened to the Republican party that mistrusted the federal government and complained about how it infringed upon people's constitutional liberties? It seems as if the conservative desire for small government vanished the moment that you all took control of all three branches of the federal government.

Somehow, when I'm told that a board is making the best decision about who to detain without any adherence to habeas corpus and that I have to just trust you all that rights are being observed, I get skeptical; especially when these pleas are coming from the same people who told me that they knew exactly where the weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq, that no one foresaw the possibility of the New Orleans levees being breached, that the N.S.A. always attains warrants when it conducts wiretaps that involve a domestic caller, or that anyone who was involved with the outing of a C.I.A. agent would be fired. Your party has given me zero reason to trust the government on this issue, especially when the head of your party has resisted efforts at external oversight and attempts to assure that detainees are treated humanely at every step of the process. A good example of this was the administrative battles surrounding attempts to ensure that torture not be conducted by American forces: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060227fa_fact

If you are correct and that everything that is going on at Guantanamo is legitimate, then you and your fellow policymakers have done a horrible job of reassuring both the American public and the rest of the world that that is what is really going on. That has thoroughly tanked our ability to be a global leader on a number of issues. Even if we are right, no one takes us seriously when we criticize China for their Laogai prison camps or the genocide that is happening in the Sudan. The next time that we need to intervene somewhere in the name of national security or human rights, it will be that much more difficult to convince other nations to support us in that endeavor because we have thoroughly tarnished our image as a nation that actually cares about protecting global human rights. At the very least, you should be concerned about the way that your President's actions are perceived globally. I know that you are aware that we need the cooperation of those nations if we are to fight things like terrorism, poverty, regional instability, and nuclear proliferation.

In a speech a few years ago, President Bush made the argument that freedom is not only God's gift to America, but is also God's gift to the world. If you really believe that that is true, I cannot for the life of me understand your complicity with the way that people in Guantanamo Bay have been treated. Right now, we accord different levels of human rights to different people based on their political status. We would never stand for middle class white Americans being treated the way in which we treat Afghani enemy combatants. Do you really believe in universal rights that are endowed in every person by their Creator, or do you just say that because you're supposed to? Is there any substance left in American human rights rhetoric?

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