“The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we’d hoped,” said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing a detainee at the Bagram Airfield. “We all expected better.”

From the AP story reporting that the ObamAdmin will continue the BushAdmin policy of denying constitutional rights to 600 detainees held at Bagram Air Base. Because they are “enemy combatants” – a term the BushAdmin used to get around legal constraints on its exercise of executive power, especially military power, in fighting a broadly defined “War on Terror.” The Pentagon itself narrowed the definition further in 2004 to apply to hostile actions taken by the Taliban and al-Qaida, or its supporters, a focus reconfirmed last October by the judge presiding over a case involving 20 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay prison. Human Rights Watch views the Military Commissions Act in a different light:

The MCA expands the definition of “combatant” to include those who have “purposefully and materially” supported hostilities against the United States, even if they have not taken part in the hostilities themselves, and even if they are arrested far from the battlefield. This turns ordinary civilians – such as a mother giving food to her combatant son, an individual who sends money to a banned group, or a U.S. resident who commits a criminal act unrelated to armed conflict – into “combatants” who can be placed in military custody and hauled before a military commission.

An additional – and circular – provision specifies that anyone who has been determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant” by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (the military boards convened to allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay to contest their status as combatants, called CSRTs) or “another competent tribunal” established by the president or the defense secretary is presumed to be an enemy combatant for the purposes of military commissions. This provision does not include any substantive criteria to guide the deliberations of such tribunals. And, notably, the definition of enemy combatant that has been used by the CSRTs at Guantanamo is even broader than the definition contained in the legislation, encompassing even the unknowing financier of a charitable arm of a terrorist organization. In at least one known case, a CSRT labeled a detainee an enemy combatant for precisely that reason.

These definitions have essentially been invented by the administration and Congress. They have no basis in international law and undermine one of the most fundamental pillars of the Geneva Conventions – the distinction between combatants, who engage in hostilities and are subject to attack, and non-combatants.

I am beginning to find the distinction between Bush and Obama a little blurry, too. Joan Walsh registers her own disappointment quite eloquently. Worth a read. Yet should we be that surprised? This denial of legal rights to people rounded up in military dragnets is part-and-parcel to a broader policy of American exceptionalism. Quote Glenn Greenwald (yeah, yeah – it’s a Salon day, so what?):

It cannot be emphasized enough that those who are arguing against criminal investigations for Bush officials are — whether consciously or implicitly — arguing that the U.S., alone in the world, is exempt from the laws and principles which we’ve been advocating and imposing on other countries for decades. There is simply no way to argue that our leaders should be immunized from criminal investigations for torture and other war crimes without believing that (a) the U.S. is and should be immune from the principles we’ve long demanded other nations obey and (b) we are free to ignore our treaty obligations any time it suits us.

Obama has no political interest in pursuing such criminal investigations; nor does have one in overturning the executive power grabs instituted by his predecessor, save in symbolic form (Guantanamo Bay, still being resolved); nor for that matter, in confronting the excesses of the military-imperialist state the U.S. political class has created against the basic interests of the American people. I cannot emphasize that enough – the American people, regardless of ideology – liberal or conservative or moderate or wut-evah – have no interest – military, economic, patriotic, defensive, etc. – in the expansion of an American empire. If anything, we as citizens are threatened by this almost as much as the poor people who suffer directly from the weapons used to maintain it.

Like a lot of leftoids, I have been in a wait-and-see mode; despite a few critical cartoons and some posts registering concern, I have been hanging back, hoping that I might see something different. Certainly there are progressive signs – but these are bones thrown to the dogs of the Left if basic human rights in a democratic society are not respected on the global stage. Woohoo – we got broadband on the farm! And 600 people detained interminably without legal representation and subject to torture. Wheee. Hopety-fucking-change.

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