Despite rhetoric, Obama continues Bush policy on detainees...

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Indefinite detention, no legal rights

John Byrne
 Published: Saturday February 21, 2009 

Bagram airbase flies under the radar but will continue to operate without US law

In a stunning departure from his rhetoric on Guantánamo Bay prison, President Barack Obama signaled Friday he will continue Bush Administration policy with regard to detainees held at a US airbase in Afghanistan, saying they have no right to challenge their detentions in US courts -- and denying them legal status altogether.

"This Court's Order of January 22, 2009 invited the Government to inform the Court by February 20, 2009, whether it intends to refine its position on whether the Court has jurisdiction over habeas petitions filed by detainees held at the United States military base in Bagram, Afghanistan," Acting Assistant Obama Attorney General Michael Hertz wrote in a brief filed Friday. "Having considered the matter, the Government adheres to its previously articulated position."

The move seems to be a reversal from Obama's much-trumpetedannouncement to close the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in January, in which he promised to return the United States to the "moral high ground" and "restore the standards of due process"

The US Supreme Court previously ruled that it was unconstitutional to hold detainees at Guantánamo Bay without giving them access to US courts. Following that ruling, more than 200 detainees filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Obama Administration announcement would appear to fly in the face of that ruling. The Court, while often supportive of previous Bush Administration terror policies, has strongly resisted efforts to curb its role in the legal aspect of US detention systems.

Bagram prison, where approximately 600 detainees are being held without charge or even term limits on their stay, is located about 30 miles north of Kabul in a coverted Soviet Union base. The US is mulling a $60 million plan to expand the facility, which would double its current size.

It's been closed to journalists and human rights activists, but open to lawyers. The lawyers, however, apparently have no recourse for their potential clients.

Bagram has added more than 100 prisoners since 2005, giving it a population more than double that of the current Guantánamo Bay (245).

It's uncertain whether the Supreme Court would uphold Obama's position. In the Guantanamo case, "the Court deemed the Bush administration's system for determining whether to continue holding detainees -- akin to a parole board -- was an inadequate substitute for habeas relief," Legal Times wrote Friday. "The Court also recognized that the United States exercised de facto sovereignty over the base, placing Guantánamo within its jurisdiction. 

But "the Court did not address Bagram, but said in some circumstances noncitizens being held in territories under U.S. control may have limited constitutional rights," Legal Times added.

"Yesterday's announcement that the Obama administration has not even considered departing from the very same unjust and inhumane policies of his predecessor, is an ominous sign that human rights and the rule of law are simply not a priority of this administration," the International Justice Network, who is counsel in all the cases under review, said to Raw Story in a statement. "We expected more from this President when he promised that we would not trade our fundamental values for false promises of security. Unless there is a serious reconsideration of this issue at the highest levels of the Obama government, America will not be able to put this dark chapter of our history behind us."

Another detainee lawyer also bemoaned the filing.

"The decision by the Obama Administration to adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people's human rights is deeply disappointing," the International Rights Clinic's Barbara Olshansky, who represents three Bagram detainees, told the paper. "We are trying to remain hopeful that the message being conveyed is that the new administration is still working on its position regarding the applicability of the laws of war -- the Geneva Conventions -- and international human rights treaties that apply to everyone in detention there."

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This page contains a single entry published on February 21, 2009 9:21 AM.

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