The first bit of news came from New York, where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Ghailani, a 36-year old Tanzanian national, is the first former detainee from Guantanamo Bay to be tried in a US civilian court. Ghailani's case is viewed by many as a litmus test for the viability of trying further Guantanamo detainees in the US criminal justice system. Ghailani's case raised many anticipated questions necessitated by the inhumane and illegal detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, including the permissibility of evidence and testimony collected using the horrific "extraordinary rendition" tactics employed under the Bush administration. The trial also highlighted the difficulties of extending constitutional protections to detainees whose Fifth Amendment rights to due process have arguably been waived due to their status as "enemy combatants."
The second bit of news this week concerned a change in command at the brig where Pfc. Bradley Manning is being held on charges that he leaked classified information to Wikileaks, including a controversial video of a US helicopter firing on civilians in Iraq, dispatches from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and approximately 250,000 diplomatic cables. The news briefly reignited controversy over the treatment of Pfc. Manning and the conditions in which he is being held. Despite not having been convicted of leaking the documents in question, or of any other crime, Manning has been held since May as a "Maximum Custody Detainee," the highest level of military detention security. For eight months, Manning has been subject to almost total isolation - including solitary confinement for 23 hours out of every day - and has even reportedly been denied the modest comforts of a pillow and sheets for his bed. From a December profile in Salon on the inhumane conditions in which Manning is being held:
"In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig's medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation."The holdover of Bush-era policies on indefinite detention, and the all-too-common instances of inhumane prisoner treatment that accompany such detention, remains one of the Obama Administration's most glaring criminal justice failures. Candidate Obama ran on a platform of rectifying the gross abuses perpetrated by the Bush administration in the name of justice and national security. Although the issue has been largely pushed from the spotlight by the nation's continued economic woes, President Obama must return to his promise and end these illegal and inhumane practices once and for all. Ghailani's conviction has demonstrated that US civilian courts are capable of delivering justice despite the legal morass created by the implementation and continuation of these practices. It is time to call on the President and Congress to close this shameful chapter in US history and give Pfc. Manning and the detainees at Guantanamo their day in court.