As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Better News On Bagram

Barack Obama has been lit up for not being the be-all and end-all to liberals for months now, and a fair amount of those criticisms are warranted. The storm of criticism has also driven out of the conversation what has been a pretty decent week for those who want to see a bit more fairness and humility in our domestic and foreign policy. In addition to the resumption of talks with Iran, the Administration will pursue bilateral negotiations with North Korea. The raising of tariffs against Chinese tire imports, while met with petulance and idle threats by the PRC, represents a genuine concern for American manufacturing the likes of which we haven't seen in decades. And this announcement on detainee reviews at Bagram AFB, while not wholly sufficient, is nevertheless welcome.

The Obama administration soon plans to issue new guidelines aimed at giving the hundreds of prisoners at an American detention center in Afghanistan significantly more ability to challenge their custody, Pentagon officials and detainee advocates say.

The new Pentagon guidelines would assign a United States military official to each of the roughly 600 detainees at the American-run prison at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. These officials would not be lawyers but could for the first time gather witnesses and evidence, including classified material, on behalf of the detainees to challenge their detention in proceedings before a military-appointed review board.

Some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as six years. And unlike the prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba, these detainees have had no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as “enemy combatants,” military officials said.

The changes, which are expected to be announced as early as this week after an obligatory Congressional review, come as the Obama administration is picking through the detention policies and practices of the Bush administration, to determine what it will keep and what it will abandon in an effort to distance itself from some of the harsher approaches used under President George W. Bush. Human rights groups and prisoner advocates cautiously hailed the policy changes but said the government’s track record in this area had been so poor that they wanted to see concrete results before making hard judgments.

These are not habeas trials under the American system of justice, which should follow for those detainees brought to Bagram from other countries and not as part of the Afghan war. But this is in response to a federal judge's ruling that would have allowed those very prisoners to challenge their confinement, so hopefully it can be put together in such a way that satisfies the principle. And this Defense Department official's quote is encouraging:

“We don’t want to hold anyone we don’t have to hold,” said one Defense Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the guidelines have not been formally announced. “It’s just about doing the right thing."

Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn have more.

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