Thursday, April 26, 2007

Democratic candidates on closing Guantanamo

In this photo reviewed by US military officials, an American flag waves within the razor wire-lined compound of Camp Delta prison, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba June 27, 2006. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool
This morning news media reported that

The Justice Department has asked a U.S. appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the request has become a central issue in a new legal battle over the administration's detention policies.

... the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee's case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

Guess they're afraid of a creeping reach of the rule of law (and public exposure.)

Should they be? Just for the heck of it, I made the rounds our potential Democratic presidents by way their web sites and Google to see if we can count on a Democratic president to close our extra-territorial gulag. With some notable exceptions, the results were not encouraging. I'll report in order of their current standing in the polls (excepting Kucinich and Gravel who just don't really register.)
  • Hillary Clinton: recently, apparently in answer to a question, she opined

    she would take steps to change detainee practices at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    "It is such a symbol of all of those unfortunate decisions that were made by the current administration," she said. "Until I'm president, I'm not going to know what's going on."

    No firm promise of closure there. I would describe that as hedging her bets. Whatever she does, she can't risk being seen as soft.
  • Barack Obama: The closest thing I could find to a statement on Guantanamo was a speech opposing the Military Commissions Act (torture enabling/habeus corpus suppressing) passed last fall. It contains much posturing to assure the world that he's tough on terrorists and its primary complaint seems to be with the partisan process that led to the bill. I don't come away reassured that he'd close Guantanamo. I read it and don't know what he'd do. Does he?
  • John Edwards: he has said repeatedly that there is something very wrong with Guantanamo.

    From the abuse of investigative authority under the Patriot Act to the unconstitutional imprisonment of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and illegal torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Force Base, this president has consistently shown contempt for the rule of law.

    March 13, 2007

    We are not the country of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

    February 2, 2007

    He doesn't go so far as to say he'd close the place-- he should be asked!
Update: April 27: So over at DailyKos there was a diary, ostensibly from Edwards, asking support to work against the war. So I did ask. Edwards supporters quickly pointed me this blog report in which he does say he'll close Guantanamo.

When the crisis comes, the world has to rally around us. But for that to happen, the world must see as a good place, with trustful leadership. When I'm the president, one of the first things I'll do is to close Gitmo.

Not perhaps as binding as if it were reported in mainstream media, but not necessarily any less reliable either.
  • Bill Richardson: Outside the first tier, we begin to get concrete statements. As part of his "New Realist" vision of U.S. foreign policy, Richardson says

    We need to present the Arab and Muslim worlds with a better vision than the apocalyptic fantasy of the Jihadists. A vision of peace, prosperity, tolerance, and respect for human dignity.

    For this to be credible, we need to live up to our own ideals. Prisoner abuse, torture, secret prisons, renditions, and evasion of the Geneva conventions must have no place in our policy.

    If we want Muslims to open to us, we should start by closing Guantanamo.

  • Joe Biden: He went on record favoring closing Guantanamo in 2005.

    A leading Senate Democrat said yesterday that the United States needs to move toward shutting down the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    "This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. And it is unnecessary to be in that position."

    Another realist position here that seems quite believable.
  • Chris Dodd: Dodd has joined Senators Feingold, Leahy and Menendez in an effort to repeal the Military Commision (torture) bill. He clearly feels the legal issues involved are central to national self-respect. His father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg. None of this quite adds up to a commitment to close Guantanamo.
Compiling this survey has been interesting. Many of these candidates are not helping curious citizens who want to know their positions much: only Edwards and Richardson have good search facilities on their websites.


Kay Dennison said...

Thanks, Jan!!! You gave me some insight that will help me in the tough decision on how I'll vote in 2008.

Nell said...

Just finished writing a post that made me ask myself the very question you pose here, so thank you very much!

The TomDispatch piece by Karen Greenberg that I link in my post should be read by every candidate. Consider sending it to any campaigns to which you've contributed.

Nell said...

It is as important to repeal the MCA as it is to close Guantanamo. We have many Guantanamos -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq, soon in the horn of Africa if not already...

It's a symbol, but the assault on the rule of law of which it's a symbol can continue without it. And it can quite easily continue under a Democratic president, particularly one as wedded (literally and figuratively) to executive authority as now-Sen. Clinton.

Nell said...

More material: a James Ridgeway article from Mother Jones on Republican and Democratic presidential candidates' positions on torture. (I hope the link works; I'm a subscriber, and some of the emailed articles aren't always available immediately.)

From the article:
Democrats are somewhat more willing to declare a firm opposition to torture, though they have yet to make it a central issue in their campaigns. On April 13 and 14, all of the candidates were invited to meet with a group of retired admirals and generals to discuss U.S. detention and interrogation practices, in an event sponsored by Human Rights First and the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire. Only Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Dennis Kucinich met with the military leaders. (John Edwards accepted the invitation, but canceled due to the weather.)
Still, it would be surprising to hear any of the Dems consider the torture issue enough of a priority to raise it in their first debate.

Did they? With no chance for opening statements and given a minute each to answer questions, I can't imagine they did, either -- but with that kind of restriction the question posed would have to be specifically about torture for me to regard the omission as a real disappointment.

janinsanfran said...

This is interesting. It is my instinct that it will be easier for most of the potential Dem presidents to close Guantanamo than to renounce torture.

The ONLY downside of closing Guantanamo is the fear that they'll get Dukakis'd -- someone released will do something to some American. Mostly, closing the place, regardless of what extralegal thing they do with the inmates, is just "realist" common sense. The Greenburg is good on what they might do with inmates. Thanks!

On torture, they all will say the U.S. doesn't torture. But what it would take, politically, to get that genie back in the bottle, would be first to force all evidence that the U.S. does torture underground. Take the idea that anyone can admit with impunity or advocate for torture simply out of the public sphere. That is going to take a lot of doing. Short of a leader of actual moral stature pushing for it, I don't think it is going to happen.

And even if it did, then we'd just be back to pre-2001: the U.S. would torture its enemies (and domestic prisoners)and train other countries' torturers, but no one would say so aloud. This regime actually was somewhat more ethically healthy than the present one, but still depressing.

Chuck Blanchard said...


This is very useful. Thanks. I have to say that while I am fascinated by Obama, Edwards usually nails it as I go issue by issue.