No Habeas Corpus in Aghanistan [news digest]

Listening in at the king’s palace…

When Bill Keller writes, he’s basically expressing the received wisdom of the NYT, the voice of the nation’s political center-left. He and his paper embody the liberal establishment more than any other institution. It is the voice of the U.S. ruling class in other words. So it’s of interest to see what wise counsel he offered Obama on Monday morning.

“…there is time to pay attention to unfinished Asia business. The biggest item awaiting some Washington juice is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an immense, stalled, Asian free-trade agreement that would do more to counter burgeoning China than any number of battleships.

Like most free-trade agreements, it has opposition, from critics who fear it would insufficiently protect labor, consumers, the environment and intellectual property. It’s time for the administration to cut some deals, crack some heads and open up those Asian markets.”

Those Americans not in the 1% (most of the subscribers of the NYT, incidentally) would benefit far more for strong wage increases and unionization in Asia than U.S. corporate exploitation of eastern countries – but the interests of the readership are of less moment than issuing memos to the king on how to better manage his empire.


What habeas corpus?

The Afghan government has started to rectify Washington’s shameful detention policies by releasing prisoners held without evidence. Who is teaching who about democracy? This sentence in particular is striking: “A key problem, U.S. officials said, is the Afghan parliament’s unwillingness to pass legislation that would permit the government to detain individuals even if insufficient evidence exists to prosecute them in court. …. ‘This is very disappointing,’ said a U.S. official.” More amazing is the anemic attention this is receiving. It certainly gives the lie to talk of instilling democratic norms of governance.

The Afghan government has moved to release 80 percent of the high-security detainees who were handed over this year by the U.S. military and evaluated by an Afghan review panel, according to a Defense Department report released Friday.

Many of the recommendations for release have been opposed by the U.S. military on the grounds that the detainees, some of whom were apprehended in dangerous raids of insurgent redoubts, pose an ongoing risk to Afghan security forces and government officials. U.S. officials had hoped the Afghan review board would endorse continued incarceration, but it has decided instead to free most of the detainees whose cases it has examined on the grounds that insufficient evidence was collected to prosecute them in court.

The U.S. military task force handling detention matters “disagrees with some of the ARB’s decisions,” the department wrote, using an acronym for the board, but the U.S. government has continued to support the board “as part of the transition of Afghan sovereignty.”

The U.S. military transferred authority for operating a ­high-security, American-built prison near Kabul to the Afghan government this year. The handover included 880 Afghan detainees accused of conducting insurgent attacks and other serious crimes.

The review panel has examined 461 detainees and recommended prosecution in 77 cases, according to the report. The other detainees were recommended for release.

A key problem, U.S. officials said, is the Afghan parliament’s unwillingness to pass legislation that would permit the government to detain individuals even if insufficient evidence exists to prosecute them in court. Most of the detainees were apprehended in military operations where the collection of evidence was not a priority; in other cases, information leading to their capture came from sources the U.S. government deems too secret to share with the Afghan government.

“This is very disappointing,” said a U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss detention operations. “But it’s a risk we recognized when we handed these guys over. We couldn’t hold onto them forever.”

Detentions have been a long-festering source of tension in President Hamid Karzai’s relationship with the United States. He and his advisers have maintained that U.S. and NATO forces have swept up many innocent Afghans in their raids.

U.S. military officials have sought to persuade the board to reconsider some of its recommendations.

Big Brother Britain

This portrait of a watched and deeply unfree British society was indelibly captured in the 1980s by Alan Moore in his V for Vendetta graphic novel and by Terry Gilliam in his film Brazil.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian.

“For example, Britain is estimated to have more CCTV cameras than any other country, including China. They are found in every store, railway station, school or bus — one for every 11 people on these islands. People don’t object because the cameras are said to reduce crime. They violate no Bill of Rights or written constitution because Britain has neither.

And this might be the heart of the matter. Britain has a fundamentally different conception of power than, say, the United States. In America, it is “we the people” who are held to be sovereign. Viewed like that, the N.S.A., and other arms of the government, is a servant of the people: It is meant to do what it is told.

The British system, by contrast, still carries the imprint of its origins in monarchy: Officially, it remains “Her Majesty’s Government,” not the people’s. Power still emanates from the top and flows downward, with the public allowed a peek only when the state chooses. It means that Brits can be quite resigned toward the level of government power over, and intrusion into, their lives — because they don’t really see government as their servant in the first place. Britons remain subjects, not citizens.

And so, while Americans have been shocked and stirred to action by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, Britain is resolutely unmoved. It’s not the old stiff upper lip of stoicism that you’re seeing, but a shrug of resignation and a habit of deference so deeply ingrained we hardly notice it.”


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