Naming and Shaming: Pro Bono Becomes Political Ammo

By Ben Neumeyer

For the right-wing media, criticizing the Department of Justice under Eric Holder and its handling of the war on terror  has become a bit like the proverbial “spaghetti test”: throw what you can against the wall and see if it sticks.  The newest salvo has come from Keep America Safe, a political advocacy organization dedicated to defending Bush-era policies in the war on terror.  The organization, founded by Liz Cheney, Bill Kristol and Deborah Burlingame, the survivor of a 9/11 victim, released a video calling the patriotism of the Depart of Justice into question.  It’s dishonest, condescending, and wrong, but has to be see to be believed. (Available here)

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The video attempts to portray seven political appointees at the DOJ as jihadi sympathizers for fighting for due process for Guantanamo detainees pro bono while they were working at large law firms.  Even better, it suggests that Justice (or the “Department of Jihad”) is covering up their identities for unsavory reasons.   In the past few days, the video has become a minor right-wing news meme.

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Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm Comments Off on Naming and Shaming: Pro Bono Becomes Political Ammo
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Replacing Guantanamo: Where Do We Go From Here?

Much of what Barack Obama intends to accomplish as president will have to abide by the rhythm of politics. Drafting new policies, gaining public and congressional support, and shepherding bills through the legislative process are the cost of doing business in Washington. However, there is one messy issue in particular that has the potential to be a political and symbolic trap for the Obama administration. That is the question of what to do with Guantanamo Bay.

A prominent symbol of the Bush Administration’s war on terror, with all the moral ambiguities and international condemnation that entails, closure of Guantanamo Bay has long been a cause célèbre. Almost universally condemned by the political left and world opinion, it is viewed as the kind of thing that only could have happened on Bush’s watch. So naturally there is much hope that our next president, who never missed a chance during the campaign to stress that he was not George W. Bush, will promptly get rid of it. Unfortunately, the fact that this is obviously a good idea does not mean it won’t be messy and difficult.

It’s not that Guantanamo’s closure itself is controversial. Anxiety over the consequences of the United States having a very public prison camp that doesn’t bother with things like due process is no longer limited to Amnesty International and the ACLU. It is increasingly becoming conventional bipartisan wisdom to opine that Guantanamo’s time has come. The costs to America’s image of having its own personal zone where the Geneva Conventions and habeas corpus don’t apply now outweigh the benefits. Even Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Rice have gone on record agreeing that it needs to be closed down.

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Published in: on November 28, 2008 at 11:41 am Comments Off on Replacing Guantanamo: Where Do We Go From Here?
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Why Torture Does Not Work

On Monday evening, the Human Rights and National Security Law program, in conjunction with Human Rights First, sponsored a roundtable discussion of why torture does not work, and why the next administration should work to end the ambiguity regarding its use by Americans.  Speaking at the discussion were Major General Paul Eaton, USA (Ret.), Major General Fred Hayes, USMC (Ret.), and Brigadier General James Cullen, USA (Ret.).  Over an hour of question and answer, the three revealed several key pillars to their belief that torture does not work and should not be practiced by Americans.

They began with emphatic statements that torture does not work.  Maj. Gen. Hayes told a story about his time on Iwo Jima during World War II.  A Lieutenant Johnson took a Japanese prisoner.  While they stood looking at each other a bullet struck Lt. Johnson’s helmet and brushed the top of his head as it went through the helmet.  Maj. Gen. Hayes told us that Lt. Johson could easily have shot the prisoner in the assumption that it had been a set up.  Instead, Lt. Johnson brought over another Marine.  After a few more silent moments the prisoner asked if either of the Americans spoke French.  The young Marine did, and the Japanese soldier began giving him information.  It turned out that prisoner was the chief code clerk for the commanding general at Iwo Jima and was one of the most valuable prisoners the Americans took on the island.  Maj. Gen. Hayes told us that the prisoner was very cooperative with the Americans because he knew he would be treated well.  The prisoner offered up information that helped them fend off immediate attacks and was later sent to Washington for further interrogation.  Maj. Gen. Hayes offered this as a prime example of how good treatment of prisoners can and does result in actionable intelligence.

Brig. Gen. Cullen reminded us that the goal of any interrogation is actionable intelligence.  When we engage in torture, he said, the population from which we draw that intelligence is no longer willing to give it.  Often the population is made up not necessarily of combatants, but mothers, sisters, grocers, and every day citizens who find themselves fed up with the brutality of their situation.  If they know American soldiers to be perpetrating that same brutality and denigration in their own actions, then we “become a recruiting office for the enemy,” said Brig. Gen. Cullen.  Humane practices not only lend us the moral high ground, but also draw informants who may be tired of violence and willing to help end it.

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Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm Comments Off on Why Torture Does Not Work
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