Great new location… same great totalitarianism

All hail “GTMO North”… a prison in Thomson, IL (recently acquired by the federal government from the President’s home state of Illinois) will serve as the home gulag-away-from-home gulag for an as yet unknown number of prisoners now illegally detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Candace hasn’t told me if either or both of her clients might be moved there, as it would doubtless shorten her commute from Chicago, though it would otherwise mean little or nothing to the prisoners themselves, or to anyone else watching whether this country complies with its own laws under its “Constitutional Law Professor Senior Lecturer” President (answer: we’re still waiting for compliance… and waiting…)
Indeed, in a number of senses, Republican critics of this move kind of have a point (just as they rightly criticized the “two-tiered justice” of federal trials for some prisoners and military commissions for others): if these men are too tortured to actually try in a court, but somehow still “too dangerous to release”… why don’t we just keep them where they are, hundreds of miles offshore on a military base in Cuba, rather than have them a few hours drive from Chicago and St. Louis? The “symbolic” problem of Guantanamo is what it is, not where. Greenwald correctly observes:

The sentiment behind Obama’s campaign vow to close Guantanamo was the right one, but the reality of how it’s being done negates that almost entirely. What is the point of closing Guantanamo only to replicate its essential framework — imprisonment without trials — a few thousand miles to the North? It’s true that the revised military commissions contain some important improvements over the ones used under Bush: they provide better access to counsel and increased restrictions on the use of hearsay and evidence obtained via coercion. But the fundamental elements of Guantanamo are being kept firmly in place. What made Guantanamo so offensive and repugnant was not the fact that it was located in Cuba rather than Illinois. The primary complaint was that it was a legal black hole because the detainees were kept in cages indefinitely with no charges or trials. That is being retained with the move to the North.
There is, I suppose, symbolic value in closing Guantanamo. But what made Guantanamo such an affront to basic liberty and the rule of law was far more than symbolism, and it certainly had nothing to do with its locale. If anything, one could argue that it’s now more dangerous to have within the U.S., on U.S. soil, a facility explicitly devoted to imprisoning people without charges. Even worse, by emphasizing that Thomson will be an even more “secure” supermax than the utterly inhumane hellhole at Florence, Colorado — even boasting that it will be the most secure prison “of all time” — it’s likely that individuals who have never been charged with any crime will be held indefinitely in a facility even worse than Guantanamo.
Are we really supposed to believe that the Muslim world — at whom this symbolism is supposedly aimed — is so simplistic that they’ll be happy because Muslims are now being indefinitely imprisoned with no charges in Illinois instead of on a Cuban island? In many ways, this move is classic Obama: pretty words, rhetorical appeals to lofty ideals, self-congratulatory preening, accompanied by many of the same policies that were long and vehemently condemned by him and most of his supporters.

I’m inclined just to say “what Glenn said” and leave it at that. But I’ll go further. And it disappoints me no end to say this, since the President is a college classmate and all… I helped out the campaign on Election Day, contributed cash, and of course, vocally supported him on the blog. But I have to just say it.
The President is a fraud. Oh, he is an utterly brilliant politician, in the current model of what politicians are, and that, of course, is used car salesmen. He’s a great one… of those. But what he is not, boys and girls, is that thing upon which his meteoric rise is based. He is not a lawyer, in the generic definition of that word (one learned in law). Perhaps this is because there is no record of him ever having practiced law. Oh, I suppose he was a “summer associate” somewhere, and “of counsel” somewhere else…but for those wondering what lawyers do all day… we write. Whether it’s research memoranda to a law partner, or written argumentative briefs submitted to a court, or contracts or corporate papers… a lawyer leaves a lengthy paper trail. In the case of the President’s (and my own) classmate Miguel Estrada, this
paper trail included position papers within the Justice Department, later used an excuse to filibuster his nomination to a federal appeals court. In my own case, besides thousands of things written on this blog (such as this post!) that would doubtless be used to discredit me should I seek any office from city council or school board member, let alone President, I have enough cumulative written legal work floating around to fill dozens, if not hundreds of volumes.
To the extent one has philosophical differences with the positions I may have taken as a lawyer (which were almost invariably in the course of representing someone else’s legal position and interests)… one might rely on this to launch a political attack on me. Many lawyers find themselves in similar positions.
But not Barack Obama. Because, other than his two memoirs, the President doesn’t seem to have a written record. Not law review articles, not briefs, certainly no important bills or even committee reports as a legislator… little, or nothing. Which, for a lawyer, is… unusual. But for a man who has parlayed an entire political career out of being the first Black Law Review President at Harvard Law School… it’s well-nigh inconceivable. And yet… there we have it. No unfortunate written words that might come back to haunt the President… because he apparently didn’t write any.
The thing is… one of his campaign themes was that unlike “businessman” George W. Bush who never “thought deeply about the Constitution”… the President had “thought deeply about the Constitution” because, of course, “he was a Constitutional lawyer.” Well… there is… no evidence of that.
And now, the proof is in the pudding. As some of us feared, or even suspected, this too was something on which we took a flyer, because Barack Obama “had no record.” And it seems… we were rightly fearful. Because anyone with any knowledge of the law at all would realize that there is no God damned difference between running a prison that violates the Geneva Conventions in Cuba or in Illinois or in Afghanistan or on the moon… all of them constitute an ongoing war crime, and hence are not “legal”. Extra-judicial permanent “preemptive”detention… is not “legal.” Adjudicative bodies that can hear evidence obtained by torture… are not “legal.” The refusal to investigate probable war crimes committed by the predecessor Administration, and indeed, pulling out every stop to try to thwart litigation that might reveal the full scope of such crimes and other abuses… is not “legal.”
In short, the President’s one-upping the Bush Administration on its policies of lawlessness (but in a pretty, self-congratulatory, rhetorically appealing way)… is as much a fraud as “health care reform” or “financial reform” or “climate change legislation” or anything else that he sells us from the used car showroom known as the Oval Office is going to be… as much a fraud as is the President himself…a man who, prior to being elected President, had not had a real job since his 20’s. No, Barack H. Obama was almost designed to be elected President: a man unencumbered by either the tribulations of an actual career… or the irritating record that one accumulates in the course of having one. Unfortunately, those are also the sources of wisdom and judgement… which are all too undervalued by most Americans. And so we got what we wanted: a politician par excellence… indeed, a perfect political machine– handsome, articulate, and in the end… entirely capable of running policies every bit as sociopathic as his predecessor’s. But what we do not have in the President… is a lawyer… a President with even a clue as to what “the law” actually is.
And that, piling more lawlessness on, after eight already lawless years under Bush-Cheney, is a tragedy from which I do not believe our nation will likely recover. Those of us, like me, who are just too ornery to concede the soul of this country in this way, will continue to bang our heads against the wall anyway. But that’s what we’re doing. This has been… “Great new location… same great totalitarianism.”