On the bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, America still struggles to uphold the Constitution. Although he was in many ways a genius leader, we should never forget the lessons learned from Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. ( Habeas corpus is your Constitutional right as a prisoner to have access to the courts. Lincoln suspended this right on the grounds that the Constitution allows it “in cases of rebellion or invasion.” The Supreme Court overturned his decision. He ignored the Supreme Court. Things got a little crazy out in Missouri.)
And now, almost 200 years since Lincoln’s decision to revoke civil rights, the U.S. still holds prisoners without giving them access to the courts. Only, politicians have gotten a lot sneakier since Lincoln’s time. George Bush oversaw the establishment of an offshore prison, so that the concept of “American prisoner” would be murky — brilliant!
I joke, but it’s really quite humorless. President Obama made big news last month when he announced plans to close Guantánamo, which would finally mean restoring this most basic tenet of the U.S. Constitution. And while that’s great news for the 240 or so Guantánamo prisoners and their lawyers, it does nothing for the 600 prisoners in Bagram, Afghanistan, who have not even been allowed to speak to lawyers. From the Christian Science Monitor:
At the heart of a looming legal showdown at Bagram is the same fundamental question asked in the Guantánamo litigation: Are detainees in a US military prison overseas entitled to any legal rights?
But there is an additional twist. After the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision, the Bush administration stopped sending detainees to Guantánamo and instead routed them to Bagram, where they were held and interrogated without judicial scrutiny. Until now.
With the situation in Afghanistan getting worse every day, the U.S. is preparing to escalate our presence there. Efforts are already underway to expand the housing capability of Bagram to hold at least 1,000 prisoners. Without the basic American concept that we do not permit “lock ’em up and throw away the key” justice, what will the future of these prisoners hold?
President Obama has done the right thing with Guantánamo. What will he do for Bagram?