The Obama administration's righteous stance against indefinite detention

U.S. officials somehow manage to protest Pakistan's detention policies with a straight face

Published April 22, 2010 1:23PM (EDT)

(updated below)

For those who believe that there are certain types of hypocrisy and double standards too blatant and shameless even for the U.S. Government to invoke, I'd like to point out how wrong you are:

The Washington Post, today:

The Pakistani military is holding thousands of suspected militants in indefinite detention, arguing that the nation's dysfunctional civilian justice system cannot be trusted to prevent them from walking free, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. . . .

Top U.S. officials have raised concern about the detentions with Pakistani leaders, fearing that the issue could undermine American domestic and congressional support for the U.S.-backed counterinsurgency campaign in Pakistan and jeopardize billions of dollars in U.S. assistance.

Pakistani officials say that they are aware of the problem but that there is no clear solution: Pakistan has no applicable military justice system, and even civilian officials concede that their courts are not up to the task of handling such a large volume of complex terrorism cases. There is little forensic evidence in most cases, and witnesses are likely to be too scared to testify. . . .

The United States has not pushed for a specific solution but has encouraged Pakistan to begin handling the detainees within the law, U.S. officials said. . . . Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, an army spokesman, said the military is "extremely concerned" that the detainees will be allowed to go free if they are turned over to the civilian government. . . .

U.S. officials say they worry that the detentions will further inflame the Pakistani public at a time when the government here needs popular support for its offensives.

"They're treating the local population with a heavy hand, and they're alienating them," said an Obama administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "As a result, it's sort of a classic case going back to Vietnam; it [risks] actually creating more sympathy for the extremists."

NPR, June 26, 2009:

Ever since President Obama proposed holding terrorism detainees without trial, the debate over preventive detention has been growing. Now, NPR has the first look at a detailed legislative proposal to hold detainees indefinitely. . . . In a speech last month at the National Archives, President Obama opened the door to the possibility that some terrorism detainees will neither be tried nor released.

New York Times, May 22, 2009:

President Obama’s proposal for a new legal system in which terrorism suspects could be held in "prolonged detention" inside the United States without trial would be a departure from the way this country sees itself . . .

Mr. Obama chose to call his proposal "prolonged detention," which made it sound more reassuring than some of its more familiar names. In some countries, it is called "administrative detention," a designation with a slightly totalitarian ring. Some of its proponents call it "indefinite detention," which evokes the Bush administration’s position that Guantánamo detainees could be held until the end of the war on terror -- perhaps for the rest of their lives -- even if acquitted in war crimes trials.

Associated Press, February 20, 2009:

The Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.  In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention. The filing shocked human rights attorneys.

New York Times, April 10, 2009:

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

New York Times Editorial, January 17, 2010:

We keep waiting -- in vain -- for the Obama administration to stop trying to block judicial scrutiny of some of the Bush administration’s most outrageous policies on the detention of prisoners.

Most recently, Neal Katyal, a deputy solicitor general, tried to persuade a three-judge federal appeals court panel to deny hearings to a group of prisoners who have been held under harsh conditions without adequate review for more than six years. Their prison -- at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan -- is a much larger version of the Guantánamo Bay prison that President Obama has ordered closed.

The Washington Post, January 22, 2010:

A Justice Department-led task force has concluded that nearly 50 of the 196 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war, according to Obama administration officials.

The task force's findings represent the first time that the administration has clarified how many detainees it considers too dangerous to release but unprosecutable because officials fear trials could compromise intelligence-gathering and because detainees could challenge evidence obtained through coercion.

LA Times, March 21, 2010:

The White House is considering whether to detain international terrorism suspects at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said, an option that would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo Bay, which it has promised to close. . . . [A]ny suspected terrorist held inside the U.S. would probably have the right to challenge his detention in federal courts. Bagram, for now, is outside the reach of U.S. courts.

Let's teach those Pakistanis that we're not going to tolerate their lawless and tyrannical detention of people without charges and trials.  We won't put up with it.  Especially not when it's "justified" with the Orwellian claim that their real civilian courts can't handle the prosecutions and they're "afraid" that Dangerous Terrorists might be released if they give them due process because they're unprosecutable.  Kudos to the Obama administration for teaching them that countries that live under the Rule of Law simply don't deny people trials based on such excuses.  It'd be one thing if they were assassinating these people without any charges or trials -- that, of course, would be understandable -- but not detaining them.  We're the Leader of the Free World and we simply can't be seen associating with or supporting regimes that would do such a thing.  Besides, unlike the U.S., it's not like Pakistan really faces an Existential Threat from Islamic radicals or anything, so (unlike us) they really have no acceptable excuse for doing these things.


UPDATE:  In related news, The New York Times Editorial Page today excoriates those tyrannical Iranians for holding, without trials, 3 American hikers who crossed into Iran and who are accused of spying (h/t Chris Dowd).  And the NYT today also reports that U.S. officials are demanding that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki investigate a now-closed, undisclosed secret prison in Baghdad where Sunnis were held without charges and tortured; Look Backward!, we demand, and impose accountability for such heinous crimes! (h/t GlennNYC).

By Glenn Greenwald

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