Sunday, November 2, 2014

Detention USA: EVERYBODY is Starting to Ask Questions!

The weather's turning cold. I'm thinking back on some of the activism we engaged in here in Chicago in the spring . . . . and in the summer . . .  and I'm looking ahead to what has -- sadly -- become a winter tradition: the protests on the Guantanamo anniversary on January 11.

And I'm wondering how -- this winter -- we might bring some heat and light to the issues surrounding indefinite detention and the persecution of Muslims.

Guantanamo: unending detention

CHICAGO: Protesting Guantanamo detention
More info at Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo
Every year for the past dozen years, activists against U.S. government indefinite detention at Guantanamo, and other violations of due process, have engaged in protests around the country on January 11. (January 11 is marked as the anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.) See, for instance, the events related to our 2012 J11 protest in Chicago.

Nearly a year ago at this time, I was reacting to proclamations by Obama administration officials, saying that they were in the process of working out repatriation or other placement for the 70 or so Guantanamo detainees who had been cleared for release. For a brief moment, I wondered if it might really happen. The result, however, has been that no more than a handful of detainees were sent home.

Instead, the U.S. government continued to force-feed detainees, and to fight tooth-and-nail to resist any attempt to get the truth about those force-feedings to the public.

Korematsu Day

January is a time when people remember another story of U.S. detention: January 30 is recognized as Korematsu Day, after Fred Korematsu, who fought the illegitimate U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

In 2013, I attended a Korematsu Day forum in Chicago at Loyola University School of Law -- one of dozens of Korematsu day events held around the country.  It was excellent, and it included a presentation by a representative from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago on the issue of detention of Muslims in the U.S. since 2001.

George Takei - childhood photo during his family's
internment in Rohwer, AK (Source:
I was reminded recently of the importance of Korematsu Day when I saw the wonderful documentary about actor and activist George Takei -- who was himself interned as a young boy.

"As I write this, once again the national dialogue turns to defining our enemies, the impulse to smear whole communities or people with the actions of others still too familiar and raw. Places like the museum and Rohwer camp exist to remind us of the dangers and fallibility of our democracy, which is only as strong as the adherence to our constitutional principles renders it. People like myself and those veterans lived through that failure, and we understand how quickly cherished liberties and freedom may slip away or disappear utterly." (George Takei, "Why We Must Remember Rohwer," The Huffington Post, 4/22/2013)

(Takei has joined with a creative team to bring to the stage a musical about the issue: Allegiance.)

Korematsu Day is a day when we should both look at the persecution of Japanese-Americans in the U.S. in the past, but also look at the persecution of Muslims in the U.S. today.  The question, "What needs to be done to make sure this never happens again?" is not just academic.

The Holder Legacy

Attorney General Eric Holder stepped down last week. Mainstream media commentaries on his legacy are all over the map.  Perhaps it would be fruitful for one or more law school to avail itself of this stock-taking moment. What happened? Why?

The Holder Justice Department: What happened?

There is a broad range of areas where the behavior of the Holder (i.e. Obama (i.e. Democratic)) Justice Department needs to be scrutinized. Four Five seem particularly closely related:

* indefinite detention at Guantanamo
* prosecutions in the court system stemming from terrorism charges
* provisions to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely under the N.D.A.A. (National Defense Authorization Act)
* suppression of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on U.S. torture
* legal justification for extrajudicial execution of U.S. enemies (drone killings)

Remember when we ushered out the Bush administration and ushered in the Obama administration? Did anyone imagine the past six years would be more of the same (and worse)?

Legal protection for people?

Eric L. Lewis
"Lawyer Eric Lewis shows a copy of a statement
by his clients, Britons captured in Afghanistan
and held at Guantanamo Bay."
(Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta in USA Today)
About a month ago, attorney Eric L. Lewis made a very interesting connection between developments in U.S. law by focusing on recent Supreme Court decisions. In "Who Are ‘We the People’?" in The New York Times (October 4, 2014), Lewis pointed out that, on the one hand the acceptance of indefinite detention of people in the U.S. legal system means that the country is no longer serious about treating people as people; and on the other hand the Citizens United decision allows corporations to insist that corporations DO get the full set of rights we have defined for people. Lewis -- who has acted as counsel for individual Guantanamo detainees -- says it is time for people who claim to care about the rule of law in the U.S. to look at the systemic disintegration. "Who is a person? How do you qualify for basic human rights? What is required for you to be able to speak or worship freely or to be free from torture?" he asks.

How might we get all these questions on the table in a meaningful forum in January? In particular, I am wondering how aspiring lawyers feel about what they are getting themselves into today: isn't it time to inquire into a law school education that prepares you to participate in a legal system that isn't working? I like to see a conversation that includes activists, legal experts, soon-to-be lawyers, as well as lots of members of the lay public. I think everybody is starting to have questions.

Related posts

Eric Holder addressed a group of Northwestern Law students and others. Afterward one audience member summed up the speech as he left: "He pretty much said he can kill anyone he wants." The details of that speech will turn you more topsy-turvy than anything Alice experienced when she ventured through the looking glass.

(See Eric Through the Looking Glass)

Even if the current Obama administration approach of releases were to succeed in bringing about the release of everyone at Guantanamo, it would not have begun to address the wrong that has been committed.

(See US to its Humans Rights Violations Victims: "Shut up and take what you're given!" )

The story of the past decade-plus has been the story of the assertion by some that the conception of law that our society has is not sufficient.  Simply put, there are those who say that there is a third, "in-between" category of behavior -- and legal status -- that is not civilian (subject to criminal law) and not military (subject to military law and the laws of war). And since there are no rules about how to deal with that third category . . . .

(See Using the Good, Old Criminal Justice System: Worth a Try?)

Other related links

Law schools are interested in the concept of "rule of law." (See for instance What We Know & Don’t Know About the Rule of Law, October 31-November 1, 2014 -- the inaugural conference of Rule of Law Research Consortium (RLRC), held in conjunction with the University of Chicago Law School. ) Most of the time, however, they proceed from the assumption that "rule of law" exists in the U.S., and that the only question is why it doesn't happen in other places!