Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, If the Government Does It, It's Legal!

Indefinite detention of the innocent and guilty alike, without any hope of charges, trial, or release: This is now the American way. Most Americans, however, may not care to take that in, not even when the indefinitely detained go on a hunger strike. That act has certainly gotten Washington's and the media's collective attention. After all, could there be anything more extreme than striking against your own body to make a point? Suicide by strike? It's the ultimate statement of protest and despair. Certainly, the strikers have succeeded in pushing Guantanamo out of the netherworld of non news and onto front pages, into presidential news conferences, and to the top of the TV newscasts. That, in a word, is extraordinary. But what exactly do those prisoners, many now being force fed, want to highlight? Here's one thing: Despite the promise he made on entering the Oval office, President Obama has obviously not made much of an effort to close the prison, which, as he said recently, hurts us, in terms of our international standing, and is a recruitment tool for extremists. If Congress has been thoroughly recalcitrant when it comes to closing Guantanamo, the president's idea of what shutting down that prison meant, proved curious indeed. His plan involved transferring many of the prisoners from Cuba, that crown jewel of the offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice that the Bush administration set up in January 2002, to a super max style prison in Illinois Gitmo North. That would mean, of course, transferring indefinite detention from the offshore world of extraordinary rendition , black sites, and torture directly into the heart of the American justice system. Obama himself has indicated that at least 50 of the prisoners can, in his view, never be released or tried, in part because confessions were tortured out of some of them. They would be kept in what he, in the past, politely termed prolonged detention. Here's a second thing the strikers undoubtedly wanted to highlight, and it's even harder to take in: Guantanamo now holds 86 prisoners out of the 166 caged there, who have been carefully vetted by the US military, the FBI, the CIA, and so on, and found to have done nothing for which they could be charged or should be imprisoned. All 86 have been cleared for release, years late, often after brutal interrogation experiences, sometimes involving torture. The problem: there is nowhere to release them to, especially since the majority of them are Yemenis, and President Obama has imposed a moratorium on transferring any prisoner to Yemen.   

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