As Many As 75 Detainees Could Remain In Limbo - The Atlantic Politics Channel

The Washington Post appears to have broken a significant news story without really knowing it. Here's Perry Bacon, writing about Congressional efforts to move Guantanamo prisoners:

Administration officials say they expect that as many as 40 of the 215 detainees at Guantanamo will be tried in federal court or military commissions. About 90 others have been cleared for repatriation or resettlement in a third country, and about 75 more have been deemed too dangerous to release but cannot be prosecuted because of evidentiary issues and limits on the use of classified material.

The Post is fairly definitive. If true, that means that there are 75 so-called "Fifth Category" detainees who might be subject to indefinite detention without trial. President Obama told Americans that this category had to exist:

"Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantánamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people," Obama said. Among examples he offered: "people who have received extensive explosives training at Al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans." He said candidates for indefinite detention without charge would be "people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States."
I'm okay with this, as I was never under the illusion that Obama was going to put an end to "indefinite detentions." However, some are not taking it quite as well. In one of his most readable columns in months, Glenn Greenwald lets loose:

Can anyone reconcile Obama's homage to "our legal traditions" and his professed faith in jury trials in the New York federal courts with the reality of what his administration is doing: i.e., denying trials to a large number of detainees, either by putting them before military commissions or simply indefinitely imprisoning them without any process at all?

During his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Eric Holder struggled all day to justify his decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial because he has no coherent principle to invoke. He can't possibly defend the sanctity of jury trials in our political system -- the most potent argument justifying what he did -- since he's the same person who is simultaneously denying trials to Guantanamo detainees by sending them to military commissions and even explicitly promising that some of them will be held without charges of any kind.

Once you endorse the notion that the Government has the right to imprison people not captured on any battlefield without giving them trials -- as the Obama administration is doing explicitly and implicitly -- what convincing rationale can anyone offer to justify giving Mohammed and other 9/11 defendants a real trial in New York? If you're taking the position that military commissions and even indefinite detention are perfectly legitimate tools to imprison people -- as Holder has done -- then what is the answer to the Right's objections that Mohammed himself belongs in a military commission? If the administration believes Omar Khadr belongs in a military commission, and if they believe others can be held indefinitely without any charges, why isn't that true of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? By denying jury trials to a large number of detainees, Obama officials have completely gutted their own case for why they did the right thing in giving Mohammed a trial in New York.

Even worse, Holder was reduced to admitting -- even boasting -- that this concocted multi-tiered justice system (trials for some, commissions for others, indefinite detention for the rest) enables the Government to pick and choose what level of due process someone gets based on the Government's assessment as to where and how they're most likely to get a conviction:

Courts and commissions are both essential tools in our fight against terrorism . . . On the same day I sent these five defendants to federal court, I referred five others to be tried in military commissions. I am a prosecutor, and as a prosecutor, my top priority was simply to select the venue where the government will have the greatest opportunity to present the strongest case with the best law. . . . At the end of the day, it was clear to me that the venue in which we are most likely to obtain justice for the American people is a federal court.
Does that remotely sound like a "justice system"? If you're accused of being a Terrorist, there's not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win. Even worse, Holder repeatedly assured Senators that the administration would continue to imprison 9/11 defendants even in the very unlikely case that they were acquitted, citing what they previously suggested was their Orwellian authority of so-called "post-acquittal detention powers." Is there any better definition of a "show trial" than one in which the defendant has no chance of ever being released even if acquitted, because the Government will simply thereafter assert the power to hold him indefinitely without charges?
Although the conclusion he eventually reaches is the exact opposite of mine, his argument is nevertheless compelling:

I understand that sending even a limited number of Terrorism suspects to federal court is politically difficult and controversial, as the last couple of days have demonstrated. But by refusing to embrace and defend the core principle of justice at stake here -- that a distinguishing feature of our political system is that we don't imprison or kill people without charging them with a crime and proving their guilt in a real court, and that military commissions and indefinite detention are un-American (which Democrats argued under Bush) -- the Obama administration has made it far more difficult for it to defend what it is doing, as well as for those who want to defend their decision to give trials to 9/11 defendants.


The administration should have the courage of its convictions and defend jury trials as a linchpin of American justice, which would entail giving them to all Terrorism suspects not captured on any battlefield. But by refusing to do so -- by exhibiting the very cowardice of which Holder accused Republicans, i.e. denying Terrorism suspects a trial -- the administration has no cogent argument to make in its own defense. It's just another case of the administration wanting to bask in the rhetorical glory of "the rule of law" while simultaneously trampling on it for petty political convenience.
It seems strange to say, but this is just an incredibly exciting issue on so many fronts.