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Guantánamo at Home

Jonathan Hafetz,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Center for Democracy
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October 8, 2008

The Bush administration has long defended its prison at Guantánamo by claiming that the Constitution did not apply there because it was located outside the United States. But newly disclosed government documents obtained by Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic and the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the administration was secretly trying to extend Guantánamo’s lawless system to this country.

The documents concern the three individuals held as “enemy combatants” within the United States: Yaser Hamdi, Jose Padilla, and Ali al-Marri. Two of those detainees—Padilla and al-Marri—were arrested in this country. Al-Marri, who is represented by the ACLU, remains at the Navy brig in South Carolina and is seeking review of his continued detention in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The President’s claim that he can order the military to seize people off the streets of the United States and imprison them forever without charge or trial by labeling them “enemy combatants” defies centuries of precedent and legal tradition. The new documents illustrate the dirty underbelly of this dangerous power grab.

The documents clearly show that the standard operating procedure developed for Guantánamo governed every aspect of these detentions inside the United States. That procedure gave interrogators carte blanche to engage in tactics that bordered on if not amounted to torture. They demonstrate that the abuse inflicted on Padilla and al-Marri—which included prolonged isolation, painful stress position, extreme sensory deprivation, and threats of violence and death—was the direct consequence of the Bush administration’s decision to apply the Guantánamo rules to the United States.

The documents also show that the servicemen and women tasked with implementing these policies questioned mistreating detainees and expressed concern for the detainees’ safety, only to be overruled by higher-ups in the chain of command. By shedding light on the administration’s secret plan to create a miniature Guantánamo at home, the documents mark an important step forward in repairing the damage the administration has caused to America’s Constitution and values.

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