Michael Ratner: From Guantanamo to Brennan at CIA, Obama carries on the policies of George Bush
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.
Michael is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin, and a board member for The Real News. Thanks for joining us, Michael.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Good to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So what are you following this week? I guess the big issue will be the anniversary of Guantanamo.
RATNER: I wish I could say it’s a big issue. Of course it’s a big issue. But it’s a grim anniversary. It’s the 11th year of Guantanamo. We’re entering the 12th year. The U.S. has had that detention camp since January 11, 2002. The original order came down in November 2001. That’s the order that the Center for Constitutional Rights and myself has been challenging since that time. And despite our challenges, despite Obama, we still have Guantanamo there. And we have a Guantanamoâ€”and these numbers are importantâ€”that 166 people still remaining at Guantanamo, and that 86 of those, 86 have been cleared for release. That means they’re innocent, they shouldn’t be there anymore, and they are still there. And they’ve been there going on, in some cases, 11 years, ten years, nine years. Still there. So we’re still running a detention camp.
JAY: Why are they still there if they’ve been cleared for release?
RATNER: You know, that gets into the big issue on Guantanamo. It gets into the president’s promise to close it. The president on January 22, 2009, wrote an executive order saying exactly it has to be closed in one year from this date and saying it’s in the national security interests of the United States and the foreign policy interests and the interests of justice to close Guantanamo. And yet it remains open.
So the big question is: why? Well, you know, politicians are politicians. And what happened in Guantanamoâ€”I can do a couple of factors quickly, but they’re still at the politicians’ door. One is [incompr.] the first people who were ordered released from Guantanamo when Obama became president, the Uyghers from Western China, which is the Muslim split-off group from China, they were picked up in Afghanistan. The U.S. refused to let them come into the United States, despite a federal court order and despite a Uyghur community that was willing to take them in, and despite their complete clearance for release. Obama showed weak knees. That was early in his term, you know, probably by February or March.
And then, after he refused to let those Uyghurs into the United States, Congress got in the act. And that goes on and on. Congress then said nobody from Guantanamo can come to the United States, nobody from Guantanamo can be sent to any other country, unless there are all kinds of hurdles that they go through and clearances.
And that’s now reflected in, like, two years of legislation, which we’ve talked about before, called the National Defense Authorization Act. Obama signed that again. That contains the Guantanamo restrictions on transfer to the United States and to other countries. Obama said in his signing statement, I think a lot of it’s unconstitutional and I may override it. He said that last year as well. But I don’t expect him to do it.
So my prediction: you and I will be celebrating, sadly, this grim anniversary year after year. And I put itâ€”yes, I put it at the feet of Obama. I put it at the feet of Congress, and also the courts. While at my office we won a right for the Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detentions in courts, that right has not been carried out by the courts, and we have not yet gotten people out in the last few years as a result of any of the litigation. All of it has been reversed in the appeals court.
And so we’re sitting there now with what I consider to be an incredible human rights and political outrage. The only way people seem to be getting out of the camp now is by death. And we had one death in September, a man named Adnan Latif, who’d been there for ten years. Government claimed suicide. Who knows. It was an overdose of drugs somehow. How he got that in a detention camp when there’s a camera on you every second is unclear to me.
So Guantanamo is really like the albatross around Obama’s neck. But be honest: it’s not the only albatross. If we look at what the Obama administration has done, the areas that I care about and have litigated, he’s not very much different than President Bush was. If you look at Guantanamo, [it] exists. You look at military commissions, which are those special rum trials, still going on. If you look at death by drone, more under Obama by far than under Bush. If you look at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is the right that they’ve given the government to surveil your and my conversations, it’s as broad as it’s ever been. They don’t even have to name the U.S. citizens they’re surveilling anymore. They can go to the secret court and get a warrant and say, we just want to investigate The Real News, pick up all the American citizens they want by wiretap, and that’s it. So Obama on those issues is really hand-in-glove with President Bush. And on torture, of course, yes, he did do an order to stop the worst forms of tortureâ€”waterboarding and otherwise. That had actually ended by the time Obama took office.
JAY: What about the appointment of John Brennan as director of the CIA?
RATNER: Well, that really seals what I’ve been saying about the two wings of the same bird sense of Bush and Obama on these national security issues that I’ve been discussing. John Brennan has been the national security adviser for President Obama in the White House. The reason he was that adviser was because he couldn’t get to be head of the CIA, which is what Obama wanted to appoint him to four years ago. And he couldn’t appoint him to that because Brennan set up the counterintelligence center or the Counterterrorism Center in Washington to fight terrorism. And as part of that, of course, we had the torture techniques employed widely. Brennan was head of that. We had rendition employed widely. Brennan was head of that. So there was too much opposition for Brennan to get to be head of the CIA.
Go ahead now four more years. Brennan’s been heading the drone program for President Obama. He’s become like a brother, as far as we can tell, to President Obama on the drone program. What happens next? Obama nominates Brennan to be head of the CIA. Is there going to be significant opposition? I doubt it. The torture stuff probably won’t come up at all. It seems that every member of Congress or at least every member of the Senate is on the same page or almost the same page on the drone issues with a few exceptions. And so probably Brennan is going to sweep through.
So what does that tell you about what’s happened to the country? When we had Bush in office, I had a tremendous amount of support for the opposition that my office and others have had to Guantanamo, drones, the torture program, getting people prosecuted for torture [inaud.] Obama’s taken office, that support has evaporated. And worse than that, they’re now putting into the head of the CIA one of the architects of the Bush program, and actually the head of the drone program, essentially. We’ve seen a normalization now of these issues in the country.
JAY: Just to be clear, when you said head of the drone program, now we know fromâ€”’cause they told The New York Times, this is Brennan and Obama sitting around, deciding who’s going to be killed.
RATNER: That’s where they make up the kill list. Obama said he signs off on it personally. It includes a wide variety of people, not just people who are alleged terrorists, who they know the names of; it includes what are called signature strikes, which are just people who have characteristics they say belong to terrorists or in the areas where terrorists allegedly hang out; and it includes people killing outside of war zones, which is, I think, what people are really getting upset by, because it may be one thingâ€”it’s like a bomber if you’re fighting a shooting war, to drop bombs on, you know, the other side; but when you’re talking about people who were not in uniforms, who were not in a war zone, but are living in Yemen or living in Somalia, or could be living in the United Kingdom or right here in the United States, you’re talking about something else. And that’s who’s going to be the head of our CIA.
So I would say that this country on those issues is really in a hell somewhere. I mean, we have a long way to come back. Eleven years of Guantanamo, six, seven, eight years of drones, a dozen years of torture and no prosecutions for it, and then you throw into the mix the last little bit, a nice film like Zero Dark Thirtyâ€”and I mean nice facetiouslyâ€”that essentially makes an argument that torture works and that we need torture to protect ourselves in the United States. Luckily, while it was nominated for an academy award, its director, who should not be directing, Kathryn Bigelow, was not nominated. But the film confirms, really, what this country has become, which is a country where torture is considered acceptable and necessary for its protection.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Michael.
RATNER: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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