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We're at Netroots! The Guantánamo and First 100 Days Panel

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July 19, 2008

Jen Nessel of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is moderating "Guantánamo, Habeas Corpus, Torture and Military Contractors: The Roadmap to Accountability in the First 100 Days." Vince Warren, also of CCR, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, and Blackwater author Jeremy Scahill make up the panel.

Vince opens with commentary about the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision— he says it's "the first time in my life I've ever been proud of the Supreme Court"—and the 2004 Rasul decision. Warren says one of the most important first-100-days tasks is to decide what to do with the 240 men who remain in Guantánamo, including the 60 or so who have been cleared for release but are still being held.

How does the next President overturn the Bush administration's torture policies? Jameel says it's easy: Staff the Office of Legal Counsel with people with integrity. Rescind the executive orders that allowed the CIA to set up prisons abroad and allow extraordinary rendition. Extend the Army Field Manual to the CIA. Jameel's confident that some of these things will be done by a President McCain or President Obama, and also points out that the courts need some reform too: national security cases have been faring terribly in the courts. Jameel points out that all rendition cases have been shut down by the state secrets privilege, and torture pretty much got the greenlight as well. He add that the most important thing the next president can do is to set up a mechanism like the Church committee to investigate these abuses of power.

Scahill: Private contractors like Blackwater not being held accountable for war crimes committed in our name, and exhorts the audience to pressure the presidential candidates to promise to bring these mercenaries to justice. He points out that once the candidates are in office, they'll stop listening, and "they don't need you any more." To demand accountability now, Scahill says, is "not anti-troop, it's anti-war profiteering, and now is the time when your voice matters most."

Lithwick is up. She says Bush administration lawlessness breaks down into two parts: the "Nixonian" notion of a unitary executive/imperial presidency, a.k.a.: "it's ok if the President does it." Second is Bush's immunizing of its own lawbreaking and/or sidelining the courts. He's convinced the public, and often Congress, that it's all too complex and confusing to understand. Bush's use of signing statements has been out of control since he took office, and has abused the state secrets doctrine to get cases dismissed outright and dodge legal accountability. To Lithwick, the most overlooked aspect of Bush's abuses: he's packed the courts with conservative appointees, and that's doing a lot of long-lasting damage.

Jameel points out that the state of the public records on this administration is abysmal: the records released under the Freedom of Information Act lawsuits are still heavily redacted. A full, public hearing is needed to know the who and why of how these decisions were made. Right now the administration is exploiting the absence of facts in the public record about the torture programs and the storybook, 24-esque, "ticking time bomb" narratives to get away with these unlawful programs. Lithwick adds that the "modified insanity," good people-gone-bad defense is used as well.

Jameel says that Bush's horrible national security policies are actually making America less safe, and agrees with Lithwick that this needs to be emphasized more in blogs and the media.

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