The United States is clearly the most powerful country in the world. It spends nearly as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. Such an extreme concentration of power deserves special scrutiny, no matter how benevolently it is exercised.
As it turns out, there is good reason to be worried of US global dominance. In a court ruling issued earlier this week, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit argued in Al Bihani v. Obama that the President’s war powers are not bound by international law or treaties ratified by the Senate.
The US government can arrest you and pretty much do whatever it wants to you because you have no rights (if you’re a non-citizen). It can detain you indefinitely without ever having to try you in a court of law.
The Obama Administration, which many civil libertarians thought would have more sensible views on detainee policy, supports indefinite detention of suspects even after they have been tried and acquited.
Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald has time and again shredded the administration’s legal arguments on indefinite detention. Greenwald has a great article about the administration’s plans to move detainees from Guantánamo Bay to a supermax facility in Thomson, Ill. GOP Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois raised a stink over the idea, and sent a list of questions about the move to the administration. Obama’s Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn responded to Kirk’s questions in a letter:
Lynn: Consistent with longstanding policy regarding criminal prosecutions, the Department of Justice will pursue prosecutions of Guantánamo Bay detainees in Federal court only when admissible evidence or potentially available admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction. The Attorney General has made clear that he would not have decided to pursue prosecution of the accused 9/11 co-conspirators in Federal court if he did not believe prosecutors could secure a conviction.
Greenwald’s response hits the nail on the head:
Greenwald: But traditionally, what happens when such evidence is insufficient is not that the state just imprisons them anyway with no trial or puts them before some less rigorous tribunal; what’s supposed to happen when the state cannot convict someone is that the individuals are not charged and therefore not imprisoned. But here, the Obama administration is turning that most basic principle on its head: only those who it knows it can convict will get trials, but the rest will be shipped to Thomson — Gitmo North — to be put before a military commission or simply imprisoned without charges of any kind.
But these detainees are the hardest of the hardcore Al Qaeda terrorists, right? Actually, it turns out you don’t have to do much to be labeled an “enemy combatant” and thrown into this netherworld of a justice system. Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani simply cooked meals for the Taliban and is now detained at Guantánamo Bay. As the D.C. Judge Richard Leon wrote about Al Bihani’s activities last January, ”Napoleon himself was fond of pointing out: an army marches on its stomach.”