Saturday, June 27, 2009

Comparing Two Democratic Senators

In response to President Obama's speech at the National Archives Museum, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin sent a letter to the President voicing his concerns with some of the policy proposals put forth in the speech.  In the speech, Obama made the case for preventive detention, a policy in which the executive branch can declare anyone they want a danger to national security not because they were proven guilty in a court of law, but because they are deemed to be a threat to national security and the well being of Americans everywhere for their potential future actions.  Here is an excerpt from the letter:

My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional. While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.

You have discussed this possibility only in the context of the current detainees at Guantanamo Bay, yet
we must be aware of the precedent that such a system would establish. While the handling of these detainees by the Bush Administration was particularly egregious, from a legal as well as human rights perspective, these are unlikely to be the last suspected terrorists captured by the United States. Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. ...............................................................................................................

The idea that our government can indefinitely detain anyone without filing criminal charges against them is anathema to our Constitution and Western concepts of government. If I remember correctly, Candidate Obama was against military commissions (he now proposes to "reconfigure" and "tweak" the military commissions used to try terror suspects), was for closing Guantanamo, and scaling back the states secrets privilege. Now, President Obama is essentially embracing Bush's worst policies and may be expanding them!

Contrast what Feingold sent to Obama with what Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska said on Hardball with Chris Matthews last Wednesday, May 20. I would encourage all to read the entire transcript.  I did, however, highlight some of the more egregious statements made during the interview by Matthews, Nelson, and Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia.  

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Obama got a big brushback from the U.S. Senate today when they voted 90 to 6 - that's 90 to 6 - to block Guantanamo detainees from coming to the U.S.

Joining me U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss-he's a Republican of Georgia-and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, who's a Democrat of-oh, actually, Ben Nelson is a Democrat of Nebraska.

Senator Nelson, you first. What do we do with the people that are at Gitmo if we close Gitmo?

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Well, I think that has to be part of the president's plan, to explain what his thoughts are on that. I suspect some of them will go back to the countries of their origin of their nationality. But I think that's what has to be part of the plan.

MATTHEWS: Well, we've got a new report that's not quite officially released now. I want to go to Saxby Chambliss on this. Senator, 7 of the 534 prisoners that have been transferred abroad from Guantanamo have rejoined the terrorist forces, so it's something we've all worried about. What do we do with people we can't make a case against them criminally, we let them go and they go right back into the enemy forces. What do we do with them?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS ®, GEORGIA: Well, I actually...

MATTHEWS: What can we do about that?

CHAMBLISS: I actually think he's is a little bit higher than that, Chris. In December, it was about...

MATTHEWS: I'm sorry, one in seven. You're right, Senator, one in seven. So one-seventh of that 534. That's a lot.

CHAMBLISS: Yes, it is a lot. And I suspect the number has increased since January. The Department of Defense has not released those numbers as of yesterday, when, frankly, we requested the release of them. But you know, the fact is that we know that the ones that are left at Guantanamo are the meanest, nastiest killers in the world. They get up every day thinking ways that they can kill and harm Americans. And those are the individuals that we just can't afford to have transferred to this country. And certainly, we can't afford to put them in position of being released into U.S. society.

NELSON: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of-do you think our prisons, our maximum security prisons are not adequate to hold them? And we've got some - you know, we've got a lot of killers in our prisons. We've got murderers. We've got people that murdered again and again in our prisons, really horrible people in those maximum security prisons in this country.

Senator Chambliss, you're saying they're not good enough to hold these terrorists? They're not tough enough to hold them?

CHAMBLISS: No. What I'm saying is that once you put them on American soil, then all of a sudden, Chris, they become eligible for a lot of rights that American criminals have. And these are combatant detainees. These are not ordinary bank robbers or the nasty folks that they would be associated with at these prisons. These are folks that either have killed or tried to kill Americans.

And we need to make sure that they don't have the rights given to those criminals that are placed on American soil, such as the right of habeas corpus. And a certain number of them will probably be successful in a habeas corpus action and could be released in America. And we don't need to give the Americans exposure of that nature.

MATTHEWS: Senator Nelson, is this really a case of NIMBY, "not in my backyard"? A lot Senators are afraid that if they voted for the funding to close down Gitmo, they could be later accused of having a hand in letting those people come to their states as terrorists housed in their own territory?

NELSON: Well, it certainly isn't in my case. I think it's inappropriate to try to bring those prisoners, those enemy combatants to the United States, to try them, to house them, to incarcerate them. It's just inappropriate.

It's a matter of politics. It's a matter of policy. And even if you didn't run the risk of habeas corpus and some of the other rights that they might be able to allege or to assert while on the American soil, it's inappropriate. This is not the place for them.

I think we need to work with the other countries to make sure that they don't release them, that they keep them incarcerated. After all, they're their citizens, their residents, and they have an obligation here, as well. It's not all on our shoulders, in my opinion.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do? Do we take them-I mean, we sent Napoleon-the French sent Napoleon to St. Helena down in the South Atlantic. I mean, how far-is there another place besides Gitmo? I understand, Senator Chambliss, the symbolism. Obviously, the candidate, Barack Obama, didn't like the symbolism of Gitmo. But are we going to have to face the fact that these guys are terrorists? They're going to have to be somewhere? It might as well be Gitmo?

CHAMBLISS: Well, I understand what he's talking about from a symbolism standpoint. And I'm not one who thinks we ought to keep Gitmo open forever and ever and ever. But you've got to have a plan in place, Chris, before you make a major decision such as closing Gitmo. It may take us three, four, five, ten years. I don't know what it will take us before we can deal with each of these prisoners individually.

That's what we're looking for, and we're looking at a way to keep those prisoners housed and keep them off of American soil till some definitive plan is in place as to how we're going to deal with each one of these 240 individuals.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator Chambliss, about the report by the FBI director, Mr. Mueller, who's obviously a holdover, a civil servant who continues as FBI director. He said when he was asked today-I heard the interview today where he said he is afraid-he did this under questioning. I don't think he wanted to say this. But he did say it.

We have a situation in this country where our hardened criminals in our federal penitentiaries in maximum security situations who continue to operate gangs. They can get the word out. They can get on the phone. They can find way of communicating indirectly, and they can run criminal operations.

He was actually concerned today that we might take terrorists into places like San Quentin or other heavy security places, and they could begin to operate as terrorists from those facilities. Do you have that concern?

CHAMBLISS: Oh, I sure do share that concern. You know, we know that our prisons are a breeding ground for recidivism by criminals. And we also know that Al Qaeda looks for weakness in individuals to try to recruit those types of individuals in their organization. And, certainly, criminals, hardened criminals who have nothing to look forward to but the rest of their lives in jail are the types of individuals that Al Qaeda would try to recruit and even those or going to be getting out would be more important for them to recruit.

So I think there are definite ways of communication between hardened criminals in our prison system. They're smart people. And they know how to communicate and how to get a message out there. And, certainly, I think the director is very wise to think in terms of how we would deal with that.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Senator Nelson. Should we execute these people? I mean, let's be honest about it. If we believe they're evil, if we believe they're coming to the US, they're hardened killers and terrorists, and they intend, the minute they get out, to come back and try to kill us, why are we so dainty about it? Why do we keep holding them? Why don't we execute them?

I mean, isn't this-we're just passing the buck continually saying where do we put these people when we really think that they're our enemies and always will be?

NELSON: No. I think what we do here is we-we expect the president to put together a plan that explains in detail how we're going to deal with these individuals. And I think sending them back to their countries, in most cases, is the way-the way to go with an understanding with those countries that they will be-that they will be incarcerated. They're not going to be released back into society, or that-and, as in the case with Saudi Arabia, where certain detainees have been released, they have a program trying to rehabilitate them.

It isn't fully successful, but at least it's their problem. I don't think-I don't think we have the responsibility to assume the need to take care of these individuals indefinitely and, certainly, not on American soil.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Thank you, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

CHAMBLISS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

NELSON: Thank you. .............................................................................................................

We have one Democrat (not ours!) standing on the side of habeas corpus, the core principles of Western political traditional, and justice. We have another Democrat (ours!) standing on the side of totalitarianism, dictatorship, and injustice all in the name of national security. I mean, read what Nelson said carefully and ask yourself if this sounds like a Democratic Senator from the United States?

NELSON: Well, it certainly isn't in my case. I think it's inappropriate to try to bring those prisoners, those enemy combatants to the United States, to try them, to house them, to incarcerate them. It's just inappropriate.

It's a matter of politics. It's a matter of policy. And even if you didn't run the risk of habeas corpus and some of the other rights that they might be able to allege or to assert while on the American soil, it's inappropriate. This is not the place for them.

I think we need to work with the other countries to make sure that they don't release them, that they keep them incarcerated. After all, they're their citizens, their residents, and they have an obligation here, as well. It's not all on our shoulders, in my opinion.


The man says that it is inappropriate "to try them, to house them, to incarcerate them." In Nelson's twisted Beltway world, we shouldn't actually try the people we have detained for sometimes years illegally and without regard to the rule of law. Instead, we need to send them to other countries to be detained indefinitely, without a proper trial or consideration for our legal traditions and Constitution.  And his idea that we need to send these detainees to their home countries to be incarcerated (presumably for life) without properly convicting them is an idea that our country has historically criticized other countries for doing.  It's amazing these people can get away with this kind of stuff.  

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