U.S. power knows no bounds

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.”


5 Responses to “U.S. power knows no bounds”

  1. Adam Says:

    How, then, would you have the US handle suspected terrorists? Did we bring the Nazi’s over to US courts after WWII? Sure there will be errors in processing just like luggage doesn’t always arrive at the right destination, yet the idea in itself is practical and in my view more effective than simply giving suspected terrorists US citizen rights.

  2. Diane Says:

    First time I had time to thumb through the blog Andy…. David referred me 🙂

    I am reminded as I read through this of history’s ever changing definitions of crime, mischief, terror, traitors and the thoughts behind the level of culpability to society based on the time period and events that occur during said time period.

    What shocked me is the cooking of the meals here. In most societies cooking a meal is not a crime of any respect. However helping the enemy makes you a traitor. According to this line of logic (or mislogic depending on opinion) you really need to be careful who you do good deeds for.

    I think that Kant (as much as I disagree with his rigidness most times) could easily allieviate this handling of suspected terrorists. A good deed is a good deed, a bad deed is a bad deed no matter who its for. What makes cooking food for your mom, any better or worse than cooking food for an Al-Quaeda Terrorist? Kant’s theory did not allow for grey areas in morality and actions….. i.e. Lying to protect someone is still lying and if you want it to be a categorical imparitve you shouldn’t lie.

    Errors aside in processing… Handling of any crime, from simple to terror should be handled according to the crime and not the label from society and the tide of the times. Processing is human error, and as they say in the criminal justice system at times… Can’t get them all.

  3. Andy Hallman Says:


    I’m open to debating what rights a person should have when they’re arrested, I just think that the answer of “no rights” is obviously the wrong answer.

    Even in the case of the Nazis, it wasn’t obvious who was guilty of doing what and what responsibility each person had for what happened on their watch. At the Nuremberg trials, the Allies were pretty selective in which international laws they chose to enforce. Notice that no one was tried for intentionally bombing civilian targets, even though international laws against such activity were considered to be binding, at least by the judges at Nuremberg.

    At Guantánamo Bay, there are a number of people who are held there with no connection to terrorism, or so says Lawrence Wilkerson.

  4. Andy Hallman Says:

    Diane: However helping the enemy makes you a traitor. According to this line of logic (or mislogic depending on opinion) you really need to be careful who you do good deeds for.

    You’re exactly right, and it’s even truer now with the new anti-terrorism laws that seek to crackdown on people who provide “material support” to terrorists.

    The law is so broad that it can even apply to the victims of terrorism.

    As Human Rights First explains:

    The government’s concept of “material support” is so broad that it ends up affecting refugees who do not support terrorism, and even refugees who are actually the victims of violent groups – like Colombian refugees who have been forced to pay money to armed militants.

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