April 25, 2007

In the Anteroom of Hell

I have written extensively about the crucial importance of Guantanamo in the current regime's drive to uncontested, absolute power, and the related issue of the destruction of habeas corpus by means of the profoundly loathsome Military Commissions Act; see, in particular, "America, Now Without the Revolution," "Understanding the Significance of Guantanamo: The Symbol of Omnipotent Power," and "Thus the World Was Lost."

Now, the NYT brings us this news:
The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the request has become a central issue in a new legal battle over the administration’s detention policies.

Saying that visits by civilian lawyers and attorney-client mail have caused "intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo," a Justice Department filing proposes new limits on the lawyers’ contact with their clients and access to evidence in their cases that would replace more expansive rules that have governed them since they began visiting Guantánamo detainees in large numbers in 2004.

The filing says the lawyers have caused unrest among the detainees and have improperly served as a conduit to the news media, assertions that have drawn angry responses from some of the lawyers.

The dispute is the latest and perhaps the most significant clash over the role of lawyers for the detainees. "There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country," the Justice Department filing argued.

Under the proposal, filed this month in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee’s case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

The proposal would also reverse existing rules to permit government officials, on their own, to deny the lawyers access to secret evidence used by military panels to determine that their clients were enemy combatants.

Many of the lawyers say the restrictions would make it impossible to represent their clients, or even to convince wary detainees — in a single visit — that they were really lawyers, rather than interrogators.

Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a lawyer who has helped to coordinate strategy for the detainees, said the government was trying to disrupt relationships between the lawyers and their clients and to stop the flow of public information about Guantánamo, which he described as a "legal black hole" before the courts permitted access for the lawyers in 2004.

"These rules," Mr. Hafetz said, "are an effort to restore Guantánamo to its prior status as a legal black hole."
The Times article concludes with this genuinely Orwellian detail:
[W]hile arguing that detainees have no right to lawyers, the Justice Department filing said the government was giving the Guantánamo detainees enough access to lawyers so that "the court’s review will be assisted by having informed counsel."
The destruction of the ultimate foundation of all our liberties continues apace, as the monstrous absurdities multiply.

It was never true that "they hate us for our freedom"; "they" hate us as the direct result of our government's ceaseless, utterly unjustified, endlessly destructive interferences with other nations around the world, even when there is no conceivable basis for believing that those nations represent any kind of threat to us. But in its drive toward absolute power, a campaign which has met with precious little opposition of any significance, the Bush administration has made absolutely certain that it is impossible for anyone to "hate us for our freedom": we no longer have it.

As long as the Military Commissions Act remains in force, we live at the mercy of the Executive, and we remain in the anteroom of Hell. Almost no one even tries to move us to a safer location, where we might live in peace and liberty.

This is the nature of the United States today. Most Americans are entirely ignorant of this state of affairs; most of those who are aware of it at all do absolutely nothing to change it.

UPDATE: Much more on the Military Commissions Act and related matters in a new essay -- "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade."