Creating a ‘Gitmo North’ an Alarming Step, Says ACLU

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–December 15, 2009.  The Obama administration announced today that it will purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for the purpose of holding some of the detainees currently remaining at Guantánamo. Though the administration is leaving unsaid which detainees will be moved there and for what purposes, the information it has provided indicates that some detainees might be held for military commission proceedings in Illinois while others might be held at Thomson indefinitely without charge or trial.

The administration has stated that “any detainees at Guantánamo who continue to be held, and for whom no prosecution is planned, will be held only under authority granted by Congress in 2001 under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, as informed by the law of war.”  However, the so-called war on terrorism is not a traditional war, having no temporal or geographical boundaries.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

“The creation of a ‘Gitmo North’ in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.

“Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location. Such a policy is completely at odds with our democratic commitment to due process and human rights whether it’s occurring in Cuba or in Illinois. In fact, 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.

“It is also greatly disturbing that the administration will continue the use of military commissions, which are no more acceptable in Illinois or any other U.S. state than in Guantánamo. Despite some improvements, the commissions still fall far short of the legal standards necessary to comply with constitutional and international standards, allowing, for example, the use of coerced and hearsay evidence that would not be allowed in federal court. The proceedings will achieve neither reliable justice nor a restoration of America’s credibility around the world.

“The administration must also make very clear what category of detainee will be transferred to Thomson in the future and what kind of prison conditions will apply. Detainees not charged with a crime should not be subject to punitive conditions meant for sentenced prisoners who have been found guilty in a court of law, and all conditions must comply with the Geneva Conventions.

“The administration will no doubt be looking to Congress for legislative buy-in for this facility, and as both branches work together, we strongly urge lawmakers to legislate responsibly and not set any policies or precedents for indefinite detention on U.S. soil, or create any violation of the Geneva Conventions.

“The Obama administration’s announcement today contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values. American values do not contemplate disregarding our Constitution and skirting the criminal justice system. After detaining hundreds of individuals without the basic due process rights that define our justice system for almost eight years, it is time to charge suspects where evidence exists and repatriate and transfer the rest to countries where they won’t be tortured.”