Getting used to a new Gitmo zip code

December 17, 2009

(Originally posted on Jurist)

The Obama administration’s announcement that it intends to move “War on Terror” detainees not cleared for release to the Thomson Correctional Facility changes very little beyond enabling President Obama to honor the letter, if not the spirit, of his pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

What this decision in fact demonstrates is a lasting commitment to two ideas that President Obama rejected as a candidate: Military Commissions and indefinite detention without charge.

Military Commissions amount to little more than a cynical attempt to create a trial format with a sufficiently low burden of proof that it will admit evidence that could not be used in a real court. The concept of indefinite detention violates one of the most fundamental tenets of American – and international – justice that every defendant has a right to challenge his accusers in court. Both set disastrous precedents.

The decision to move the detainees will also have little positive impact on the position of the detainees themselves – indeed it will most likely further retard cases already unconscionably delayed. Nor will their day-to-day lives be improved, it is likely to be quite a while before the recreational facilities at Thomson match those now on offer at Guantanamo.

The bottom line is that the Obama administration is not fooling anyone either at home or abroad. Changing Guanatanmo’s zip code does not make indefinite detention any less palatable or military commissions any more legitimate.

Sadly, the good citizens of Thomson, Illinois, should get used to the idea that the name of their hometown will soon join Guantanamo and Abu Garaib as a shorthand term for American double standards and that it will likely become as effective a recruitment tool for Al-Qaeda as its predecessors.