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Guantanamo Bay (#110 of 7)

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011: Better This World, Love Crimes of Kabul, & You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011: <em>Better This World</em>, <em>Love Crimes of Kabul</em>, & <em>You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo</em>
Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011: <em>Better This World</em>, <em>Love Crimes of Kabul</em>, & <em>You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo</em>

Three nonfiction features in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival take 21st-century incarceration, and accompanying judicial abuses, as their focus. Portraying American law enforcement in the war on terror as a galling dog-and-pony show, Better This World reveals the prosecution of a pair of naïve, youthful activists as a rigged spectacle reminiscent of federal infiltration of antiwar groups in the 1960s. David McKay and Brad Crowder, high school buddies from Midland, Texas, were a pair of tentative dissidents in their Bush-country environs until they met and were mentored by Brandon Darby, a thirtysomething organizer with renown in leftist circles for his relief work in post-Katrina New Orleans. Recruiting the younger men to join him in protesting the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and emphasizing that he planned “direct action” to “shut the fucker down,” the charismatic Darby—a Cajun Henry Rollins-type with a bent for busting out jiu jitsu moves and recommending beef over tofu as an asset in building strength for defense against prison “ass rape”—advocated for the legitimacy of armed struggle in conversations with his protégés before and during the preemptive police clampdowns at the RNC. After McKay and Crowder used Walmart-bought materials to fashion Molotov cocktails in Minnesota, and were arrested before resolving vague, halfhearted plans to use them, Darby’s role became clear in the case against the Texans: He’d been working as an F.B.I. informer for a year and a half.

Reinventing the War on Terror

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Reinventing the War on Terror
Reinventing the War on Terror

The executive orders President Barack Obama signed on Thursday are the beginning of a long battle by human rights defenders to reign in an executive branch bloated with power. In conducting his War on Terror, George W. Bush established a shadow network of spies and covert detention sites, one governed by its own secret laws promulgated largely through confidential memos. The prison at Guantanamo Bay was only the most visible part of this network. To thoroughly dismantle this terrible executive inheritance, Obama’s legal team in the Department of Justice will need to do much more. And even though the Obama administration has taken the initiative here, it is unlikely that substantive reforms will occur without pressure from Congress.

The person most significant in bringing our wayward executive branch under the rule of law will be incoming Attorney General Eric Holder. Alongside Dawn Johsen, the incoming head of the Office of Legal Counsel, and Obama himself, the heap of memos, executive orders, and other documents authorizing Bush’s excesses will be his to confront. Holder will decide, for example, if Gitmo’s closure becomes more than a symbolic victory. If his office declares that the enemy combatants detained by the Bush administration were entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions, Obama’s defense and justice departments will have to radically revise the Bush strategy for holding and prosecuting enemy combatants. But that’s unlikely. Obama’s Department of Justice hasn’t yet decided how to go about prosecuting these prisoners, as evidenced in their request that all habeus corpus hearings be delayed while a system is put into place. As to whether the detentions were illegal in the first place, Holder has already stated that he does not believe the prisoners in Gitmo were entitled to Geneva protections to begin with. Fighting to have Geneva applied to Gitmo’s enemy combatants won’t win Obama any further political favor, but having to recognize stricter due process standards for enemy detainees will create headaches for the Department of Justice later on—principally, by forcing the administration to accord enemy combatants the legal privileges and rights enjoyed by prisoners of war.