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Andy Worthington – On Guantanamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom

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On Guantanamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom

By Andy Worthington

Nov 18th, 2010

On national security issues, there are now two Americas. In the first, which existed from January to May 2009, the rule of law flickered briefly back to life after eight years of the Bush administration.

In this first America, President Obama swept into office issuing executive orders promising to close Guantánamo and to uphold the absolute ban on torture, and also suspended the much-criticized system of trials by Military Commission used by the Bush administration to secure just three contentious convictions in seven years.

In addition, in April 2009 he complied with a court order to release four “torture memos” issued in 2002 and 2005 by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA (in 2002), or broadly upheld that decision (in 2005). As well as confirming the role of the courts in upholding the law, these documents contained important information for those hoping to hold senior Bush administration officials and lawyers accountable for their actions in the “War on Terror.”

The final flourish of this period was the decision to move a Guantánamo prisoner to New York to face a federal court trial, which took place in May 2009. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian seized in Pakistan in July 2004, was held in secret CIA custody for over two years, until he was moved to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 13 other men regarded as “high-value detainees.”

Ghailani’s transfer to face justice in New York for his involvement with the 1998 African embassy bombings was important not only because it confirmed that Guantánamo prisoners could be tried in federal court, rather than by Military Commission, but also because it established a connection with the way in which justice had been pursued before the 9/11 attacks. Ghailani had been indicted for his part in the African embassy bombings in 1998, and three of his alleged co-conspirators had been successfully tried and convicted in federal court in May 2001, prior to receiving life sentences in October 2001. [Ghailani, who was brutally tortured, was convicted by a jury Wednesday on one count of conspiracy in connection with the bombings and acquitted of murder and more than 280 other charges.]

Unfortunately, in the second America…

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