No Comment — February 22, 2008, 9:05 pm

Guantánamo Puppet Theater: Intermezzo

The Bush Administration has been fighting a failing propaganda war over its plans to try six “high-value” terrorism suspects in Guantánamo. The criticism all around the world has been withering. Only the U.S. media seems to cut them some slack. Matthew Lee at the Associated Press reported last week that the State Department had issued a cable to embassies around the world with some helpful hints about how to handle critical comments.

“International Humanitarian Law contemplates the use of the death penalty for serious violations of the laws of war,” the cable, which was written by the office of the department’s legal adviser, John Bellinger, says. “The most serious war criminals sentenced at Nuremberg were executed for their actions,” it said.

The cable makes no link between the scale of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, which included the Holocaust that killed some 6 million European Jews and other minorities, and those allegedly committed by the Guantanamo detainees, who are accused of murder and war crimes in connection with September 11, in which nearly 3,000 people died. But it makes clear that the American administration sees Nuremberg as a historic precedent in asking for the September 11 defendants to be executed.

Bellinger’s mastery of international humanitarian law is demonstrated by his recent debate with Philippe Sands, posted at the Guardian, in which his remarks turned him into a laughing stock. When I showed Bellinger’s statement to a prominent JAG prosecutor recently, I got an immediate response. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this Administration actually appreciated Nuremberg and respected what was accomplished there. But of course they don’t.”

Today the Administration’s plans for the Gitmo trials were rocked again, for the second time in a week, by disclosures from a military prosecutor who is convinced that the proceedings have been rigged. AFP reports:

The former chief prosecutor at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is set to testify for the defense in the upcoming trial of an ex-driver for Osama bin Laden, the defense team said Friday.

Colonel Morris Davis, who resigned from his post in October, is to testify on behalf of Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of delivering weapons to Al-Qaeda operatives and whose trial by a special military commission is to open in May. “We do expect him to testify,” said one of Hamdan’s lawyers Andrea Prasow, referring to Davis, an Air Force officer whose duty from 2005 to 2007 was to oversee investigations and cases brought against terror suspects at Guantanamo.

As noted previously, Colonel Davis is not alone in this. He is the fourth prosecutor to quit after leveling charges that the proceedings have been rigged. And will he be the last? Colonel Davis filed a complaint about manipulation of the Commissions system before he resigned. The complaint was investigated by Brigadier General Clyde J. Tate II. The report was prepared for William J. Haynes, the Department of Defense’s General Counsel, and under military protocol, the investigation could only look down the chain of command, not up. This means that the role played by Haynes, which is the obvious focus of Davis’s complaint, could not be examined. However, the findings issued on September 17, 2007 (viewable here) make clear that a significant number of prosecutors other than Colonel Davis were interviewed, and that the criticisms leveled by Davis were broadly shared by his colleagues.

This raises another delicate question: how many further prosecutors will quit before the trial date rolls around? That is a painful decision, of course, entailing sacrifice of an often deeply-held commitment to country and service, the prospect of joblessness in a recession and economic hardship or uncertainty. What does it say about an Administration that it puts a choice to men and women in uniform between compliance with ethics and the rule of law, and the dictates of their political superiors? But that is the dilemma that these JAGs face.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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