Minority Report in the Land of Obama

Change Has Come to AmericaLike most of America, I waited with baited breath for the expiration of the infamous “First 100 days”, an arbitrary deadline during which we expect to measure the mettle of new presidents.

Although a few things were disturbing near the end of that time period, I (and most Americans, I think) gave him high marks for all that he had managed to accomplish despite some serious (if slightly ineffectual) opposition from the Republican Party.

Now, however, more or less halfway through the second “100 days”, things are suddenly looking grim.

In a speech at the National Archives yesterday, Obama simultaneously dashed the hopes of millions of Americans while claiming to still be the face of change:

[…] there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

[…] there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. […]

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. […] We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified. ((See complete transcript at the Huffington Post.))

“Prolonged Detention”. That is the element that worries me. In the full context of his speech, it means two things at once:

  • A continuation of the “indefinite” detention policies of the Bush Administration, and
  • The potential for the detention of people who haven’t actually committed a crime yet, but are simply trained to take action.

Doesn’t that remind you of Minority Report?

There is no way to tell whether or not someone will commit a crime in the future. Just because one is trained, even brainwashed and groomed for a particularly onerous task, doesn’t mean that they will do so. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about an Al-Qaeda operative, one of our own home-grown terrorists, or an adult who was abused as a child; the fact is we do not know the future. In light of that, our laws prohibit us from arresting or detaining someone for a crime they haven’t yet committed.

As numerous battered women know this to their own detriment, that is the law.

The third category of detainees includes those who we have been ordered released by the courts. Let me repeat what I said earlier: this has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts have found that there is no legitimate reason to hold twenty-one of the people currently held at Guantanamo. Twenty of these findings took place before I came into office. The United States is a nation of laws, and we must abide by these rulings. (ref:1))

You can’t pick and choose. When President Obama took the Oath of Office, he promised to “[..] defend the Constitution of the United States”. Both indefinite and so-called “preventive” detention fall outside the laws enacted by the Constitution, just as unequivocally as the fact that waterboarding is torture.

There are currently 240 prisoners in Guantanamo. Of those, a certain number have been tortured and actually cannot be tried based on any evidence obtained through torture. Another 50 have been approved by the courts for transfer to other countries—no telling whether we are talking “rendition” ((See also the broader definition of the term “rendition“.
Consider also seeing the extraordinarily poignant film “Rendition, starring Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Omar Metwally, and based on the true story of Khalid El-Masri.)), transfer to these countries’ legal systems, or a straight up release—, which, presumably, leaves another 190, (including twenty-one (21) who have been tortured and have thereby been deemed by the courts “unprosecutable”, to coin a word) who may find themselves continuing in legal limbo.

That is simply unacceptable.

Now, in fairness, Obama has promised to “do his best” to pursue whatever means can be found that still fall within the law. The problem with that is there may be a need to set precedent, a process which can take time. A lot of time. For someone who has been incarcerated for seven or eight years already, how much longer do you think they’d want to wait?

You can watch the entire speech below:

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