"Under my administration, the United States does not torture. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions, that we will uphold our highest values and ideals."
-Barack Obama, January 9, 2009
And at the sound of that the Bill of Rights momentarily stopped turning over and over and over in its shallow recent grave. Besides at least saying he rejects torture, the President-elect has also said he will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay which currently holds about 250 people, most of whom have not been charged with anything. Constitutionally speaking, Guantanamo is a big problem.
But what about another Constitutional problem - or at least a moral and strategic problem - that's about 60 times the size of the problem we've got at Guantanamo? It doesn't get much attention, but U.S. forces are holding about 15,000 people in jail in Iraq. And like Guantanamo, most of those people haven't been charged with anything. Until last Wednesday, we held those prisoners under terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution that governed the presence of our troops in Iraq. But as of January 1 that U.N. resolution is over. And the new terms on which we're there are spelled out in the Status of Forces Agreement, just between us and the Iraqis. That agreement says we're supposed to hand over all prisoners to Iraqi authorities, who will deal with them according to Iraqi law. Iraqi law doesn't have any provision for holding people without charging them.
So what happens now? Well this is the big deal: The U.S. military is asking the Iraqis to hold at least some of those prisoners - without charging them. Never mind the law! A spokesman e-mailed the Reuters news service today saying, "We seriously desire that [Iraq] will choose to keep these detainees off the streets."
Without charges! Did I say that part? And the part about how that's illegal under Iraqi law but we're asking them to do it anyway? Asking them to adopt our brilliant prison-without-trial example?