No Comment — October 22, 2007, 12:22 am

At Gitmo, No Room for Justice

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rivers of oil? . . . He hath shewed thee, 0 man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Micah 6:7-8

In the past several weeks I’ve had a number of meetings with military and civilian lawyers involved in the Guantánamo military commissions, including prosecutors, defense counsel, military judges and staffers with the convening authority. They are a disciplined group, with a strong sense of dedication to the performance of their mission. And there is pretty much across the board a smoldering anger towards the Bush Administration—a sense that the military commissions, which could have been used to showcase American values, have instead become a sort of laughing stock for the world, an embarrassment for the uniformed services.

A bit of that has spilled into the press in the past, and more of it emerged this last weekend, in a story by Josh White that ran in the Washington Post.

Politically motivated officials at the Pentagon have pushed for convictions of high-profile detainees ahead of the 2008 elections, the former lead prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay said last night, adding that the pressure played a part in his decision to resign earlier this month. Senior defense officials discussed in a September 2006 meeting the “strategic political value” of putting some prominent detainees on trial, said Air Force Col. Morris Davis. He said that he felt pressure to pursue cases that were deemed “sexy” over those that prosecutors believed were the most solid or were ready to go.

Davis said his resignation was also prompted by newly appointed senior officials seeking to use classified evidence in what would be closed sessions of court, and by almost all elements of the military commissions process being put under the Defense Department general counsel’s command, something he believes could present serious conflicts of interest. “There was a big concern that the election of 2008 is coming up,” Davis said. “People wanted to get the cases going. There was a rush to get high-interest cases into court at the expense of openness.”

Sound familiar? Instead of proceeding on a detached professional basis, building a case with sound evidence, the instructions are to pull out cases with strong TV news appeal and get them running just in time for the 2008 presidential elections. This modus operandi has marked the Bush Administration for six years. Indeed, on Tuesday, John Conyers’s Judiciary Committee will convene hearings to look at political prosecutions brought by the Bush Administration. These prosecutions focused on a different species of “enemy combatants,” namely Democrats. They were brought just as election cycles got underway and hawked aggressively to the media. They provided made-to-order campaign season press copy for the G.O.P. And they ruthlessly debased the American criminal justice system, producing one of the worst crises of confidence in the Justice Department in the nation’s history.

If an Administration would engage in this sort of shenanigans with American citizens, can it really come as a surprise that they would do still worse to the detainees at Guantánamo?

The stakes at Guantánamo are enormous. It’s not the future of the handful of detainees who will be tried that hangs so much in the balance as it is America’s reputation for justice. At the end of World War II, America embarked upon an aggressive program of trying leaders of the Axis powers for crimes against humanity and war crimes. These proceedings, particularly the trials at Nuremberg, succeeded in giving the world a message: that the Americans stood for fair justice. The trials followed basic procedural norms, were conducted swiftly and were followed intensely by the entire world. In the end a number of the worst offenders were executed, others received prison sentences, and a handful escaped punishment. The nation’s reputation was enhanced in the eyes of the world as a result.

But how does the Bush Administration proceed? One senior officer told me this:

We worked hard to craft a military commissions system that met the terms the Administration gave us and was still within the bounds of the law. It was a very difficult task. I think we met the challenge, but the Supreme Court will have the final say on that. But no one from the Administration ever asked us: How should we handle this? They never sought the advice of the career military professionals. Instead we had a bunch of young political appointees giving us orders about what to do at every turn. And they probably didn’t ask because they knew what answers they would get. It certainly never would have looked anything like what we wound up with.

While Col. Davis cites political appointees in the Pentagon, a number of his colleagues focus their criticisms on the Department of Justice. They say that political appointees at Justice have been responsible for most of the egregious decisions which have embarrassed the military in the past. “The problem is pretty simple. These people have no interest whatsoever in justice. It’s politics 24/7. It will serve them through a couple of press cycles, but in the end it will embarrass the military and the United States bigtime.”

Another officer cited the case of David Hicks. “One of our staffers was present when Vice President Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks’s plea bargain deal. He did it, apparently, as part of a deal cut with [Australian Prime Minister] Howard. I kept thinking: this is the sort of thing that used to go on behind the Iron Curtain, not in America. And then it struck me how much this entire process had disintegrated into a political charade. It’s demoralizing for all of us.”

On September 27, Defense Secretary Gates said that he wanted to shut down the process on Guantánamo. “I was unable to achieve agreement within the executive branch on how to proceed,” Gates told a U.S. Senate committee. He went on to explain that his initiative had been obstructed by “other lawyers” within the Administration—words that were immediately understood as a reference to Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. Col. Davis’s comments help us understand why the Defense Department wants to see the military commissions process shut down. The objective is pretty transparent. It’s to preserve the integrity and reputation of the armed forces. And of the United States.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Amount of laundry an average American family of four washes in a year (in tons):

1

A study of female Finnish twins found that relative preference for masculine faces is largely heritable.

It was reported that visits from Buddhist priests could be purchased through Amazon in Japan, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra began streaming performances through virtual-reality headsets.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today