January 11, 2012, the ten-year anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guatanamo Bay, saw Washington, DC’s largest ever demonstration against the U.S. military’s prison camp.
The LA Times reported that “Chants of ‘Guantanamo has got to go’ echoed down Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday as a crowd of rain-dampened protesters marked the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first 20 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
More than 800 people demonstrated in solidarity with the 171 inmates who remain in the prison, according to the Times, although other estimates put the number in the thousands:
“The protest was so large,” reported Indymedia, “that it had to divide into multiple elements going to multiple targets, as not everyone could fit at the Supreme Court.” Nearly 200 marchers in orange jump suits and black hoods marchers went to the Supreme Court.
Other marches went to Congress, the Department of Justice, and one returned to the White House.
According to the LA Times report,
Protesters voiced anger with President Obama‘s failure to close the prison — which he promised to do during his 2008 presidential campaign — and with his approval last month of the National Defense Authorization Act, which codified the U.S. government’s authority to detain prisoners, including U.S. citizens, indefinitely without trial.
“President Obama is largely responsible for the failure to close Guantanamo, and his administration should not take its progressive base for granted,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group that represents some Guantanamo detainees.
“Guantanamo is one part of an illegal, inhumane and unjust global detention policy,” Warren said. “Our message: ‘No excuses. Shut it down.’”
A report at DC Indymedia noted that “Occupy DC added their numbers to the existing ranks of antiwar protesters who have marched against Guantanamo Bay every year on the 11th of January.”
A number of protesters drew connections between the ongoing detentions at Guantanamo and the new indefinite detention provisions that President Obama recently signed into law with the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
An open letter to Obama by Human Rights Watch on Jan. 10 urged him to reaffirm his stated commitment to close the notorious prison camp in Cuba and noted:
We are deeply disappointed that you chose to sign into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) despite your administration’s repeated threats to veto the bill if it contained detention provisions detrimental to the rule of law and US national security. The new law represents a complete rejection of the vision you outlined for counterterrorism policy when you took office. The final version of the bill, while amended slightly, seeks to upend the effective use of law enforcement for countering terrorism and replace it with a military detention system.
Your signing statement appended to the bill noted a number of deeply problematic areas which you have committed to interpreting in a manner that avoids constitutional conflicts and complies with the laws of war. Yet those problematic areas are the very reason you should have vetoed the bill, and why you must make repeal of those provisions a top priority for your administration this year. As long as the NDAA remains a part of US law, it can be used by future administrations to detain people indefinitely even in circumstances your administration has disavowed.
As this blog noted in December, the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA are not only a violation of the U.S. Constitution, but also international law. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states,
1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.
4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.
5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.
Ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1992, the ICCPR is legally binding on the United States.
The issue of the NDAA indefinite detention provisions is likely to remain at the forefront of protests moving forward. A call to “Occupy Congress” starting Jan. 17 notes as a prominent grievance the fact that the supposedly “do-nothing” 112th Congress “voted to allow the President to use the military to indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, any person, including U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, that he deems an enemy. While ostensibly about terrorism suspects, the language is so vague and broad that interpretation is guaranteed to expand to cover almost anyone.”
In a Facebook post on Jan. 12, the Center for Constitutional Rights called on the American people to intensify the fight against the NDAA’s unconstitutional and illegal indefinite detention policies:
On January 17, let’s take this movement to the next level: Occupy Congress and demand a government for the people by We the people. We have to push back against the NDAA of 2012, this law not only threatens to undermine or effectively nullify laws which restrict the involvement of U.S. military forces in domestic law enforcement operations, but it’s also the first time since the McCarthy Era that Congress has passed a statute authorizing the indefinite detention of citizens and non-citizens without charge or trial.
Other grievances cited by Occupy Congress include:
- The 112th Congress funded Ongoing Overseas Contingency Operations (a.k.a. War)
- It “reformed” the patent system, making it easier for corporations to use legal maneuvers to extort money from inventors and small business owners.
- It engaged in political theater during the debt ceiling debacle, abdicating its responsibilities to a Super Committee, which failed to come to agreements about budget cuts or tax increases to fix the deficit.
- It funded the ongoing efforts of the CIA to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations and drop bombs from drones onto civilians around the world.
- It extended the Patriot Act unchanged, despite grave concerns about its damage to our civil liberties.
- It specifically prohibited the closing of the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Largely because of all this questionable legislation, the U.S. Congress currently has a 5% public approval rating.
An overarching concern of the Occupy movement as well as the public as a whole is the institutionalized corruption that produces many of the bad laws adopted by Congress. Even the recent adoption of the NDAA appears to be at least partially the result of the legalized bribery on Capitol Hill known as the “campaign finance system.”
As the Constitution Campaign blog reported last month,
The internet hacktivist group Anonymous revealed a possible explanation to the rushed passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Congress this month, after they hacked the accounts of the 83 senators who voted for the bill and found that many proponents had received large amounts of lobbying money.
The NDAA began as simply a funding bill, but now contains worrisome provisions that could allow the indefinite military detention of American citizens without constitutionally guaranteed rights to trial in an impartial court. Anonymous uncovered a money trail connecting senators’ votes for the NDAA detention provisions to defense contractors passing large sums of money under the proverbial table. Most notable was Senator Robert Portman (R-OH), an outspoken supporter of the bill, who received a whopping $272,853–more than any other member of Congress, according to Anonymous.
“We are truly disturbed by the ludicrous $272,853 he received from special interest groups supporting the NDAA bill that authorizes the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil,” said Anonymous in their information dump. One defense firm in particular, SunFire LLC, has been linked to lobbying congress and Portman for the detention provisions. SunFire has since rebuked the accusations.
The idea that military contractors have long shaped our nation’s foreign policy is by now well established, having been presaged by President EIsenhower (himself a former general) 40 years ago. For those same corporate interests to now shape our military’s domestic policy is disturbing, to say the least.
It should be no surprise, however, as the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions could create vast new markets for defense contractors, especially those involved in building private prisons or detention camps. With each detainee at Guantanamo Bay costing the U.S. government $800,000 a year, there could be enormous corporate profits available through detaining Americans without trial.
So, here we see a clear nexus between the corrupting influence of money in politics and the adoption of dreadful laws that abrogate vital constitutional rights and important principles of international law. This is one reason that the United Nations Convention against Corruption – of which the U.S. is a state party – calls for measures to be taken to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest among public officials:
Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.
Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.
These principles are at the heart of Occupy movement’s demands, and on Tuesday they will be brought directly to the Capitol steps: