Is Obama Creating 'Floating Guantanamos?
Is Obama Creating 'Floating Guantanamos'?
by Stephen F. Rohde
Originally published in Los Angeles Daily Journal July 12, 2011
While the Obama administration is receiving well-deserved praise for charging Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali citizen, before a federal court rather than a military tribunal, too little attention is being paid to the serious questions surrounding the administration's capturing and interrogating Warsame incommunicado for more than two months on a U.S. naval ship. Under our domestic and international law, he should have been treated like a civilian criminal suspect and brought to the United States for trial immediately.
The military captured Warsame on April 19, and then put him aboard a Navy warship, where he was interrogated at sea by intelligence officials. Under interrogation, it is reported that Warsame gave up what officials called important intelligence about al-Qaida in Yemen and its relationship with al-Shabab militants in Somalia.
After the interrogation was complete, it is reported that the FBI stepped in and began a "new" interrogation from scratch. After the FBI read Warsame his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent and speak with an attorney, he allegedly chose to keep talking for days, thereby helping the government build its case against him. At what point and under what physical and mental conditions during his two-month interrogation, while being held incommunicado at sea, did he knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights?
According to The New York Times, the administration did not notify the International Committee of the Red Cross of Warsame's capture until approximately two months after his detention. Warsame was "disappeared" for this period with all the attendant dangers such hidden detention engenders.
Under what authority was Warsame captured and detained? Does the administration claim the absolute right to capture and detain, for two months, six months, perhaps indefinitely, anyone it claims is a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world, and retain the option to later prosecute them in our criminal justice system? The legal and constitutional protections to which every suspect is entitled come into play upon arrest, not months later.
The Geneva Conventions and U.S. military regulations make it illegal to hold people at sea except pending transfer to land and not for purposes of interrogation outside the law. Does the administration recognize any limits to the authority to capture and hold suspects in this manner? At what point are such suspects entitled to access to legal counsel and to their consulates under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations? At the point intelligence interrogators are finished with them?
And are there any other suspects being held on ships at sea under U.S. custody who have not been identified to the Red Cross?
These are very serious questions, which are largely being ignored. As the Obama administration continues to ignore its duty to investigate the Bush administration for potential violations of the Convention Against Torture and other statutes and treaties, is it setting the stage for its own violations of international and federal law by creating "floating Guantanamos"?
Stephen Rohde is a constitutional lawyer, author of "American Words of Freedom" and "Freedom of Assembly" and chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.