Thursday, December 17, 2009

Plan to Move 'Gitmo' Detainees to Illinois Prison Under Fire From Both Right and Left

Plan By Federal Government to Purchase Underutilized Maximum-Security State Prison in President's Home State Is Attacked By Republicans as 'a Threat to U.S. Security' and By Rights Advocates as 'Continuation of Unconstitutional Bush Policy' -- But Welcomed By State Officials as a 'Much-Needed Boost' to Job-Starved Local Economy

Guantanamo Prison

The controversy over what to do with the estimated 240 remaining terror suspects now being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp (above) -- which President Obama pledged to close by the end of the year -- remains a red-hot political controversy that flared anew this week after the Obama administration announced that it was purchasing an underutilized maximum-security state prison in Illinois to house the detainees. the announcement triggered sharp criticism form both sides of the ongoing debate over Guantánamo Bay, with conservatives blasting the plan as posing a threat to the safety of Americans and human-rights advocates denouncing it as a continuation of former President George W. Bush's policy of indefinite detention that violates the U.S. Constitution and international law. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, December 17, 2009)

-- For the next two weeks, The 'Skeeter Bites Report will be in holiday mode, republishing its annual special on "The Pagan Roots of Christmas" -- updated for 2009 -- on Monday, December 21 and presenting its third annual 'Skeeter Bites Awards "dishonors" for the worst people of the year on the following Monday, December 28. The Thursday edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report is going on hiatus and will return on January 7. Happy Holidays!


Inter-Press Service

Human-rights advocates and members of the Republican Party found unusual common ground this week. Both registered strong objections to the announcement that the Obama administration would be transferring detainees from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to a maximum security prison in Illinois.

But their reasons were starkly different.

The Weekly Standard, a conservative political publication and a reliable barometer of Republican sentiment, posted on its blog page a congressional GOP memorandum that said, "In announcing this decision, there still remains no explication of how closing Guantanamo makes America safer."

"Quite to the contrary, unnecessarily importing al-Qaida terrorists into the United States 1) gives them more legal protections, including Constitutional rights, than they have now at Guantanamo, 2) increases the chances they may be released into the country, and 3) in exchange for these significant costs, does not appease the Democratic base, and certainly will not appease al-Qaida," it said.

House Republicans were furious, with The Washington Post quoting House GOP Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) as vowing that his party "will seek every remedy at our disposal to stop this dangerous plan."

Human and civil rights leaders, on the other hand, worried not about security concerns, but rather about the impact of Guantanamo transfers on the U.S. justice system.

Typical of the views of this group was Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has mobilized dozens of pro-bono lawyers to defend prisoners at Guantanamo Bay -- "Gitmo" for short.

"Closing Gitmo physically is not closing it, if the practices underlying Gitmo remain. President Obama is rewrapping Gitmo, but a new wrapper can't make it constitutional," Ratner told IPS.

"Preventive detention is still preventive detention in Illinois. Military commissions are still military commissions in Illinois. And holding people even though the courts or the government have exonerated them is still a barbaric practice whether at 'Gitmo' or in Illinois," he added.

Ratner asked rhetorically: "Can Obama really think he can fool all of the people all of the time?"


A similar view was expressed by Brian Foley, visiting associate professor at the Boston University School of Law.

"A change in location doesn't end the problem, which is this: imprisoning human beings based on little or no evidence or unreliable evidence that they have done anything wrong or are otherwise a danger," Foley told IPS. "This is a shell game fueled by fear and cowardice. This sweeping power grab by our government endangers all of our human rights and civil liberties."

An even more condemnatory note was sounded by Francis Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School.

"Obama's 'Gitmo on the Mississippi' simply represents the importation of the illegal Gitmo kangaroo court system into the United States and thus the needless and unprincipled perversion of our Article III federal court system founded by the United States Constitution in 1787, together with America's Bill of Rights," said Boyle.

He added, "Britain, which does not have a [written] Constitution and a Bill of Rights and against which America fought a Revolution, set up a similar 'preventive detention' system over a generation ago in order to deal with alleged terrorists in Northern Ireland. Known as the infamous Diplock Courts, their perversions of justice were routinely documented and condemned by every human rights organization and court to have examined them."

"It is the height of tragic irony for a teacher of U.S. constitutional law to have these new Obama courts go down into the annals of jurisprudential infamy along with the Diplock courts," he added.


The American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's largest human rights group, agreed.

"While the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies. It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration used to undercut centuries of legal jurisprudence and the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the right to confront one's accusers," said Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director, in a statement issued Tuesday.

A somewhat more hopeful view was expressed by Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and a lecturer at Stanford University law school.

"Notwithstanding the political opposition's fake grandstanding about supposed enhanced threats, this move to a civilian rather than a military facility is a welcome symbolic and practical step toward closing Guantanamo," Pitts told IPS. "It affirms that the United States is not afraid to deal with accused terrorists on its own soil, and sends a vital message of distance from Bush administration illegalities."

He added, "Whether intended to do so or not, it could also represent a first, tentative step toward treating accused al-Qaida members like the common criminals they are instead of holy warriors locked in battle with a superpower.

"Finally affording these prisoners due process of law would be one of the most effective means of counterterrorism imaginable," Pitts said.


The Weekly Standard summed up its presentation of the Republican viewpoint with this passage: "Voluntarily bringing al-Qaida terrorists into the United States is a fantastically bad idea for multiple reasons, as it clearly fails any cost-benefit analysis. The tremendous costs of this decision include increasing the chances al-Qaida terrorists may be released into the United States, and providing them more legal protections than they currently have at Guantanamo."

But congressional Republicans have not been alone in expressing fear of "terrorists being set free on the streets of our neighbourhoods." Democrats -- especially those from conservative districts or those who are facing tight election races in 2010 -- have been equally outspoken in opposition to the president's plans.

Earlier this year, Congress voted to deny Obama any funds for transporting Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. – even for trial – without permission from Congress following a 45-day waiting period.


Under the president's plan, detainees would be transferred to the Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum- security prison located just outside of Thomson, Illinois. Built in 2001, it is owned by the State of Illinois, from which the federal government will have to buy it.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will erect a more robust perimeter fence to increase security. The portion of the prison that will be used to house Guantanamo detainees will be operated by the Defense Department, while the rest of the prison, which can hold 1,600 prisoners, will be operated by the Bureau of Prisons, part of the Department of Justice.

The military tribunals would presumably be held there.

Illinois officials, including the governor and the state's two senators, have welcomed the move because it will create several thousand new jobs in Illinois, where the unemployment rate is currently at approximately 11 percent.

One of the state's senators, Richard Durbin – the number two Democrat in the Senate – estimated that about 100 prisoners would be transferred to Thompson.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 95
Special Report Copyright 2009, Inter-Press Service, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, December 14, 2009

Obama's Nobel Speech an Echo of Bush 41 -- and a Damning Indictment of Bush 43

President's Address Defending the Use of Force When Necessary Was Reflective of the Elder Bush, Who Went to War to Stop Saddam Hussein's Aggression Against Kuwait With the Broad Support of the World Community -- Unlike the Younger Bush, Who Defied the World to Finish Off the Iraqi Dictator in Apparent Revenge For Saddam's Attempt to Kill His Father

Sarah Palin had some rare praise Thursday for President Obama after the president delivered his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway on Thursday, in which he acknowledged the irony of accepting a prize for peace at a time when he is leading the United States in a time of war. Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee, said that she would like to see the president act more like his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama's speech, however, appears to indicate that he intends to act more like Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who responded to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait by building the largest international military alliance since World War II to force the Iraqis out, whereas the younger Bush defied the world to finish off Saddam by invading Iraq in 2003. (Photos: Getty Images)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, December 14, 2009)



Republicans are a fickle bunch. After months of attacking President Obama relentlessly, now, all of a sudden, they're praising him.

Within hours after the president accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway on Thursday, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee -- and one of Obama's most severe critics -- actually applauded the president's acceptance speech.

"I liked what he said," Palin told USA Today in an interview after the speech. "I talked too in my book [Going Rogue: An American Story] about the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times."

Only a week ago, The 'Skeeter Bites Report ripped Palin in a blistering editorial for lending tacit support to the "birther" movement -- a movement motivated by racist and Islamophobic bigotry against Obama -- after Palin told a right-wing radio talk-show host that she "didn't have a problem" with people raising the issue of the president's place of birth.

It should be noted that Palin's eldest son, Track, is serving in the Army. Track Palin, 20, is currently stateside, having just returned from Iraq. It's not known whether the younger Palin will return to Iraq or be sent to Afghanistan in the near future.

But Sarah Palin isn't alone in her praise for the president. Other conservative Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, compared Obama's speech, in which he said that there are times when the use of force is necessary for a greater good -- the concept of a "just war"– to that of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

Appearing on the public radio program "The Takeaway," Gingrich said he thought the president's speech was very good. "He clearly understood that he had been given the prize prematurely, but he used it as an occasion to remind people, first of all, as he said, that there is evil in the world," Gingrich said.

"I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn't be able to have a peace prize, without having force... I thought in some ways it's a very historic speech," Gingrich continued. "And the president, I think, did a very good job of representing the role of America which has been that of – at the risk of lives of young Americans – creating the fabric of security within which you could have a Martin Luther King Jr. or you could have a Mahatma Gandhi."

Palin said the president's remarks had a familiar ring. "We have to stop those terrorists over there," she told USA Today. "We've learned our lesson from 9/11. George Bush did a great job of reminding Americans every single day that he was in office what that lesson is. And, by the way, I'd like to see President Obama follow more closely in the footsteps of George Bush and [Bush's] passion keeping the homeland safe, his passion for respecting – honoring our troops."


In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama acknowledged the irony of accepting the prize for peace as the commander-in-chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. "One of these wars [in Iraq] is winding down," the president said. "The other [in Afghanistan] is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty-three other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks."

The president told his audience that "We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

Noting that he was accepting the Peace Prize exactly 45 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the 1964 Peace Prize for his leadership in the nonviolent movement to win greater civil rights for African-Americans, the nation's first black president acknowledged that "As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of [Mahatma] Gandhi and King."

But as a head of state "sworn to protect and defend my nation," Obama continued, "I cannot be guided by their examples alone." As president, said Obama, "I [must] face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world."

Unfortunately, "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies," the president continued. "Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism. It is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower."


Nonetheless, the president continued, "This truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such."

Part of the world's challenge "is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings," Obama said. "Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President [John F.] Kennedy called for long ago. 'Let us focus,' he said, 'on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.'"

As president, Obama said, "I believe that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates -- and weakens -- those who don't."

Obama noted that "The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression."

Without mentioning his predecessor by name -- but reminding his audience of Bush's actions that drew fierce international opposition -- the president acknowledged that "America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our actions can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention -- no matter how justified."

Obama acknowledged that in those situations where force is necessary, "we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.

"That is why I prohibited torture," the president continued. "That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard."


It was clear from his speech that Obama was evoking several of his predecessors -- including Jimmy Carter, who, in his 1980 State of the Union address following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, declared that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf region.

So it should come as no surprise that conservative Republicans would draw comparisons between Obama and George W. Bush. The trouble is, they're comparing the president to the wrong Bush.

Obama's speech was far more reflective of his predecessor's father, George H.W. Bush -- and, at the same time, a damning indictment of his son. For Bush 41 did something that Bush 43 failed to do: He went to war with the full support of the world community to stop an aggressor that attacked a neighboring nation.

The elder Bush -- a World War II veteran -- went to the United Nations and won a series of Security Council resolutions demanding Iraq withdraw its troops from Kuwait. When Iraq refused to comply, the Security Council ultimately authorized the use of force to remove them.

What's forgotten is that the elder Bush also reached out to the Arab League, which passed its own resolutions condemning the Iraqi invasion. Saudi Arabia -- the world's most important oil producer and exporter -- was particularly fearful that Saddam would later send his armies to seize its northern oil fields. At the request of King Fahd, Bush sent U.S. troops to northern Saudi Arabia to prevent such an invasion.

In the months that followed, the elder Bush succeeded in building a coalition of 34 countries -- the largest international military alliance since World War II -- to join forces with the U.S. in opposing the Iraqi invasion. Significantly, the coalition included 11 Muslim nations.

By the time the UN Security Council authorized the use of force against Iraq and the Gulf War began on January 17, 1991, there were forces on the ground from Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Although they did not contribute any forces, the 33rd and 34th countries in the anti-Iraq alliance -- Japan and Germany -- made financial contributions totaling $10 billion and $6.6 billion respectively. Nonetheless, Americans made up 73 percent of the alliance's nearly one million troops deployed against Iraq.


After successfully driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, the elder Bush rejected strong urgings from conservatives to advance U.S. forces into Baghdad to topple Saddam's regime. Indeed, after the Gulf War ended, conservatives sharply criticized Bush Sr. for allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power.

The elder Bush fired back in his 1998 memoir, A World Transformed, which was co-written by his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. "Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq," Bush wrote, "would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. . .

"We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq," the elder Bush wrote. "The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under the circumstances, there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles."


The 41st president's son either never read his father's memoirs or, if he did read them, chose to ignore his father's warning about toppling Saddam Hussein. As it turned out, Bush 43 went to war in defiance of the world community and invaded another country without provocation to topple the very same dictator who had sent his army into Kuwait 13 years earlier.

The 43rd president's publicly stated motivation was to rid Iraq of its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. But it turned out that no such stockpile existed -- nearly all of Iraq's WMDs had been destroyed within six months after the Gulf War ended, but Saddam kept up the appearance that Iraq still had them to deter an attack, according to Hans Blix, the former chief weapons inspector for the UN.

But Bush 43 refused to see it that way -- at least not publicly.

So what was George W. Bush's real motivation for going to war to topple Saddam Hussein? Simply put, revenge. Bush 43 wanted to exact revenge against Saddam Hussein for his attempt to kill Bush's father.

And he was going to take down Saddam no matter what the world thought of it, according to secret transcripts revealed in October 2007 by Spain's largest daily newspaper, El Pais.

In case you've forgotten, let's travel back in time to February 1993. The elder Bush -- having turned the keys to the White House over to his successor, Bill Clinton, just a month earlier -- was visiting U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait, ostensibly to say farewell as their commander-in-chief and to congratulate them for liberating Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

But Bush had a target on his back. Saddam Hussein -- his armies driven out of Kuwait and much of his country's infrastructure laid waste by U.S. and allied bombs and missiles -- saw an opportunity to exact revenge against his nemesis, the United States, by killing the man who routed his army.

So Saddam sent a team of assassins to Kuwait to kill Bush -- but they were quickly captured by Kuwaiti security forces. The Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 people who allegedly planned to drive a car loaded with explosives near Bush and detonate it, killing the former president.

Through interviews with the suspects and examinations of the bombs' circuitry and wiring, the FBI established that the plot had been carried out by the Iraqi Intelligence Service, according to the PBS documentary series, "Frontline." A Kuwaiti court later convicted all but one of the defendants.

Two months after it was foiled, the assassination plot was revealed to the world. In retaliation, President Clinton ordered the firing of 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles to destroy the Iraqi Intelligence Service's headquarters in Baghdad. The day before the strike commenced, Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, went before the Security Council to present evidence of the Iraqi plot.

After the missiles were fired, Vice President Al Gore said the attack "was intended to be a proportionate response at the place where this plot" to assassinate Bush "was hatched and implemented." The Clinton administration subsequently authorized the CIA in 1996 to organize a coup against Saddam, only to be foiled by the dictator's intelligence service.


That the younger Bush wanted to exact revenge against Saddam for attempting to kill his father was revealed by Bush himself, when in an address to the UN General Assembly in September 2002, he let it slip that "In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Amir of Kuwait and a former American president."

Bush later admitted publicly that he made preparations to overthrow Saddam as soon as he took office. "The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear -- like the previous administration, we were for regime change," Bush told reporters in 2004 in a joint news conference with Mexico's then-President Vicente Fox. "And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with (enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq) and so we were fashioning policy along those lines."

Bush said the September 11 attacks put him "on a hair trigger" to take pre-emptive action against Iraq rather than wait for evidence of a new threat to Americans. But the fact is, Bush 43 used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to move forward with his months-long plans to overthrow Saddam.

While neither of the Bushes, father and son, will admit it publicly, there was a deep ideological divide between them, according to author Craig Unger in his book, The Fall of the House of Bush.

"George H.W. Bush was a genial man with few bitter enemies," Unger writes, "but his son had managed to appoint -- as secretary of defense no less -- one of the very few who fit the bill: Donald Rumsfeld. Once Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney took office -- the latter supposedly a loyal friend -- they had brought in one neoconservative policymaker after another to the Pentagon, the vice president's office, and the National Security Council.

"In some cases," Unger continued, "these were the same men who had battled the elder Bush when he was head of the CIA in 1976. These were the same men who fought him when he decided not to take down Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. Their goal in life seemed to be to dismantle his legacy."

And, indeed, they did. How else can you explain today's Republicans comparing Obama to the younger Bush, who brought disgrace to this country's good name during his eight years in the White House?

A more intriguing question: Given the apparent ideological rift between father and son, was Bush 43 out to "one-up" his father by getting rid of Saddam? The answer to that question perhaps can be better answered by the historians.

But for today's Republicans to compare Obama to Bush 43 is an insult -- not only to Obama, but also to Bush 41.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 94
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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