And then there were sixty

Each GTMO prisoner release is another victory; the latest is pretty big, as best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been released from Guantanamo to his home country of Mauritania; Andy has more on this happy development for Mr. Slahi. I previously interviewed one of Slahi’s attorneys, Nancy Hollander; that interview may be found here.
Slahi’s long and quite-literally-tortured tale is laid out in his best-selling book, Guantanamo Diary.
With barely ninety days left in Barack Obama’s Administration, there are sixty prisoners left, of whom ten are subject to military commissions, and, if I’m not mistaken, twenty are cleared for release… and thirty more… are not (as confirmed by this Miami Herald assessment). Perhaps most of the twenty “cleared” prisoners can be moved out; it would appear that the military commissions prisoners aren’t likely to either ever be released or even have their trials completed. On the commissions front, in an “unusual” (I prefer the term “psychotic”) development, a civilian, in this case, a not activated military reservist, also known as a civilian within the United States was arrested, and detained, to force his testimony via teleconference at a Guantanamo military commissions hearing. (h/t/ to Candace.)
This raises more issues than anyone could count (not the least of which is why the military didn’t simply place the witness on active duty, and then court-martial him if he refused to testify… particularly given that the military commissions presumably have no authority over a stateside civilian, or indeed, over anyone not charged with violations of the laws of war already within their jurisdiction). Oh well… more blurred lines and all… as I’ve said many times about all things GTMO, a lot of the abuses and overreach are as much a matter of the powerful simply demonstrating that they can get away with it as anything else. Indeed, not only will there be no public outrage, there may well be cheering, as a sadly not insignificant number of Americans (including majorities in both houses of Congress) beg for a military dictatorship as fast as it can be provided to them. Is it any wonder that inane platitudes like “Make America Great Again” have such resonance among so many?
So… twenty cleared and ten subject to commissions from sixty leaves the thirty currently forever prisoners (including Candace’s own client, an Algerian named Saeed Bakhouche). These men are being held pursuant to nebulous “law of war” authority (in many cases, as upheld by United States courts), as “forever” prisoners of a presumably “forever” war against a common noun. Some “forever prisoners” actually took up arms against American or allied forces; the rest (by my reckoning, most of them) were simply wrong place/wrong time schmucks for whom some “guilt by association” angle was invented as an excuse to hold them. And they, like the “cleared” prisoners (as well as the “commissions” prisoners) will remain guests of American hospitality until such time as the United States government decides to release them, or until the day they die.
Prior to the seamless continuity of the Bush/Obama Administration, while there could be forever wars against metaphors (wars on poverty or drugs, for example), only the war against terror added the concept of taking prisoners of war… that is, while there are many– possibly millions– of prisoners from the war on drugs, they have, at least notionally, been subject to charge and trial (even as a system hellbent on mass incarceration got what it wanted along the way).
Not so the much smaller set of “war on terror” prisoners, although, of course, many more people than those held at GTMO have been convicted of crimes associated with terrorism, and are duly serving often quite draconian sentences in American penal institutions.
In the great panoply of injustices in the couple of centuries worth of American history, including, oh, slavery (followed by Jim Crow and if you like, the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration), the “trail of tears” and numerous other heinous acts committed against native peoples, the internment of Japanese-Americans during “the good war” of WWII, and so many other events too numerous to count, the mistreatment of Muslim men captured during the “war on terror” (whatever it’s called now) is obviously morally irksome (and legally so to those of us who care), but must be kept in broader historical perspective. Still, at least this one is happening in real time, right in front of us, and, while it is not clear what any of us can “do” about it, I, for one, can sure as hell grouse about it.
Anyway… until the last decade and a half, the American government had never publicly professed that it could detain anyone (without charge or trial) forever because never before had one of its metaphorical “wars” been deemed an actual war for legal purposes, such as holding prisoners of war (even as it insists it needn’t comply with Geneva Conventions when doing so). As an added bonus, no President before Barack Obama had ever insisted that he could order the murder of any person, regardless of where on Earth they may be found (i.e., whether or not in an actual combat zone), just because a drone provided the technology to do it.
And so… here we are. GTMO is by no means the entirety of what we are up against, as the Orwellian walls of authoritarianism “to keep us safe[tm]” keep closing in on us (and, as noted, a huge portion of the American public wants its fascism… good and hard.) That said, fortunately at least for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, his days under this particular American jackboot have just come to an end.