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Obama Risks 'Future Guantanamos': Sen. Russ Feingold

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Feingold said that holding suspects indefinitely must not be 'enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice.'
 
 
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WASHINGTON (AFP) -- U.S. President Barack Obama risks creating "future Guantanamos" by continuing his predecessor's policy of indefinitely holding Al-Qaeda suspects, a prominent Democrat warned on Tuesday.

Senator Russ Feingold said he was "troubled" by Obama's policies, warning the practice of holding some suspected terrorists indefinitely risked being "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice."

Feingold warned the current administration risked mimicking the policies of the Bush administration, which "claimed the right" to detain anyone, anywhere, he said.

During a major security speech at the National Archives in May, Obama acknowledged for the first time that a legal framework could be established to hold the most dangerous U.S. detainees indefinitely without trial.

Speaking during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the consequences of "prolonged detention," Feingold said that could set "the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with potentially disastrous consequences for our national security."

If Obama follows through on the proposal for establishing "a new legal regime for prolonged detention to deal with a few individuals at Guantanamo," Feingold said "he runs the very real risk of establishing policies and legal precedents."

Feingold said it would be worse if these policies were "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by a largely discredited administration, but by a successive administration with a greatly contrasting position on legal and constitutional issues."

Also at the hearing, former White House lawyer Richard Klingler warned prolonged detention was "already widespread" and set to continue "on a wide scale."

Klingler, who served as a lawyer in the Office of White House Counsel under former president George W. Bush, told senators the "debate on indefinite detention often wrongly focuses on Guantanamo Bay," arguing the practice is "considerably more widespread."

It is a practice Obama "will continue to pursue," in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at Guantanamo, and he noted the White House has already followed in the Bush administration's footsteps by defending it repeatedly in court.

The "wartime framework underlying [these tactics] have settled well within the mainstream of the American tradition," added Klingler, who also served as the former general counsel for the National Security Council staff.

Obama, he added, has embraced practically all the controversial components and related executive powers asserted by Bush to carry out a global offensive against extremists. The continuation of the practices, therefore, has lead to a "broader recognition of the established legal basis" for indefinite detention, Klingler said.

The president has pledged to close the controversial U.S. Navy-run prison in southeastern Cuba by early next year.

Signaling a major move toward reaching that goal, on Tuesday a Tanzanian Guantanamo detainee became the first to be transferred to a civilian court on U.S. soil.

He pleaded not guilty to taking part in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Arbitrary and unlimited detention has boosted U.S. enemies by serving as a "powerfully effective recruiting advertisement" for Al-Qaeda and other groups, Human Rights First CEO Elisa Massimino testified before the hearing.

"It has strengthened the hand of terrorists -- rather than isolating and delegitimizing them -- in the political struggle for hearts and minds," she told subcommittee.

Obama declared in his security speech last month that the "terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies -- and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are."

His administration, Obama said, has been tasked with cleaning up what is "quite simply a mess … a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges."

Transferring the remaining 240 so-called "war on terror" inmates at Guantanamo Bay to top security jails in the United States remains deeply unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

"We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people," Obama has promised.