Posts Tagged ‘war on terror’
This weekend, the American Constitution Society will hold its national convention in Washington, D.C. Almost all the panels could bear on prison/jail issues in some way, and certainly on broader concerns of criminal law, procedure, and punishment. That said, if you’re planning to attend and are especially interested in prison/jail issues, watch out for these panels:
Friday, June 18
- 2010 Census and Redistricting — perhaps the discussion will touch on prison-based gerrymandering?
- Access to Federal Courts after Iqbal and Twombly
- Immigration Reform: Congress and the States
Saturday, June 19
- Detainees and Justice: Military Commissions vs. Trials within the Federal Court System
- The Federal Role in Improving Indigent Criminal Defense
Help End Prison Rape, Preserve Due Process: Two Opportunities for Public Comment on Federal Prison Regulations
If you have an extra five minutes today, here are two easy ways for you to share your opinion with the federal government and make your thoughts part of the public record. You can be sure that corrections officials and lobby groups will be seeking to influence the government on both these issues, so it’s important that ordinary citizens make their voices heard as well.
(1) Write to the DOJ urging adoption of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Standards
As I’ve noted before, the Department of Justice is currently accepting public comments on whether it should adopt the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission standards. The public comment period ends soon (May 10), so take a few minutes today to submit your comment, if you haven’t already. The proposed standards are based on best practices from prison systems that have made concrete progress in reducing sexual abuse behind bars — so their adoption nationwide could make a real difference in combating what’s become a true human rights crisis in this country. If you feel that you need more information about the scope of the problem, check out the details and links at the Just Detention International website. Then, there are a number of easy ways to submit your comment into the public record:
- Visit www.regulations.gov, search for “Docket No. OAG-131” as your keyword, then click “Submit a Comment.” You’ll be taken to a form where you can enter your comment as text or upload an attachment.
- Sign this petition at Change.org, which will submit a form letter to Eric Holder on your behalf.
- If you prefer snail mail, sample letters and addresses are available from Prison Fellowship.
(2) Write to the Bureau of Prisons about its so-called “Communications Management Units“
As reported here by Politico, the Obama Administration is reviving a set of rules first proposed but later abandoned by the Bush Administration to keep terrorism-related federal prisoners in special, isolated facilities, with very extreme restrictions on their outside communications. These so-called “Communications Management Units” are actually already in use, and in a recently filed lawsuit, prisoners allege they’ve been transferred there with no notice or due process, and without any clear standards as to who qualifies for this treatment. By belatedly publishing a set of rules for the CMUs, the administration may be hoping to forestall that lawsuit’s claim that the use of CMUs was never subject to public notice and comment, as is generally required of new federal regulations. (I blogged about the lawsuit here).
Note that by definition these rules would affect not the so-called “worst of the worst” terrorism-related prisoners (who would likely be sent to the federal supermax in Colorado, if not whatever substitute for Guantanamo the administration comes up with) but rather, as Politico puts it, “prisoners who are perceived by the government or as a result of their crimes to be more likely to try to associate with terrorist networks” (my emphasis: note all the implicit “ifs”). Prisoners currently in the CMUs claim they’ve been singled out for their religious or political beliefs, or in retaliation for filing grievances against the prison system — not for legitimate safety reasons — and that they weren’t given any opportunity to view or challenge the evidence allegedly supporting their isolation.
- If you choose to write to Eric Holder about this general issue, the Center for Constitutional Rights has some suggested language. You can also send a form letter through their website by clicking here.
- If you want to comment specifically on the new federal regulations, you have until June 7. To submit your comment, go to www.regulations.gov and search for “BOP Docket No. 1148-P” as your keyword, then click “Submit a Comment.” Then upload your comment as text or an attachment. The Brennan Center for Justice makes some points about the proposed regs that you may want to incorporate into your comment.
According to Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch, the Obama Administration will move forward with plans to purchase a prison facility in rural Thomson, Ill., whether or not Congress approves the transfer of Guantanamo detainees there. The DOJ has asked for $237 million in appropriations in next year’s budget to buy and begin using the facility to hold high-security federal inmates. Rep. Don Manzullo (R – IL), who represents northern Illinois in Congress, publicly supports the new federal prison as a way of creating jobs, but has been critical of plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees there, ostensibly for safety reasons.
Here I’ll just note a few related points; make of them what you will: 1) As I noted the other day, prisons actually haven’t been found to boost local economies, or to create as many jobs as hoped; 2) I’ve never quite understood why people are so worried about bringing the remaining Guantanamo detainees into the U.S., considering that the federal supermax in Colorado already holds some pretty dangerous folks; 3) Is this the start of a federal prison mini-boom? As the Pew Center on the States reported this week, although state prison populations have fallen in over half the states, the federal prison population is growing:
The survey found that the federal prison population continued to grow, rising by 6,838 prisoners, or 3.4 percent, to an all-time high of 208,118. Expanded federal jurisdiction over certain crimes and increased prosecution of immigration cases account for much of the increase.
Over at The New Republic‘s new review website, “The Book,” Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule reviews an especially timely new legal history. Paul Halliday‘s Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire (Belknap, 2010) examines the Great Writ from its elaboration by English judges ca. 1615 to its takeover and weakening by Parliament ca. 1815. Halliday does not explicitly engage the current debate surrounding habeas corpus and the War on Terror, but Vermeule argues that his historical account has obvious and troubling implications for that debate. As Vermeule summarizes Halliday’s account:
Parliament began by using its legislative powers to promote liberty and to help the judges make habeas corpus more effective, but this very pattern of legislative partnership paved the way for later legislation that curtailed the judges’ control. The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 was widely understood to supply a statutory basis for the ancient common-law writ. Quite quickly, the illusion developed that Parliament itself had created the writ; the implication was that “[w]hat Parliament made it could unmake, too.” Political and legal actors lack the historian’s long-run perspective, and a lack of institutional memory means that invented traditions and “mistaken notion[s]” hold sway. When the needs of empire induced legislators to suspend the writ’s operation, there were no intellectual or political resources left with which to oppose them.
Vermeule suggests that a similar pattern could play out in America: paradoxically, the more that Congress and the Supreme Court clarify the scope of habeas corpus and create elaborate procedures for habeas corpus claims — activities presumably intended in the short term to articulate and help enforce the rights of detainees — the more they may foster the illusion over the long term that what they made, they can unmake, too.
A common criticism of the Bush Administration was that, in prosecuting the War on Terror, the administration turned its back on fundamental American ideals such as due process, the right to counsel, and habeas corpus. (See, for instance, Jane Mayer’s indispensable expose The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, Doubleday, 2008.) Yet, in a recent article in the NYU Review of Law and Social Change, Georgetown law professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. suggests that the War on Terror was not so much a reversal, as the logical extension of the War on Crime in the era of mass incarceration. The full cite is “Exporting Harshness: How the War on Crime Helped Make the War on Terror Possible,” 33 NYU Rev. L. & Soc. Change 331 (2009). From the introduction (pp. 332-33):
While I share much of the criticism of how we have waged the war on terror, I suspect it is both too simple and ultimately too comforting to assert that the Bush administration alone remade our justice system and betrayed our values. …
By pursuing certain policies and using particular rhetoric domestically, I suggest, we have rendered thinkable what would otherwise have been unthinkable. Moreover, as the world’s largest jailer, we are increasingly desensitized to the harsh treatment of criminals. We have come to accept such excesses as casualties of war—whether on crime, drugs, or terror. Indeed, more than that, we no longer see what we do as special, different, or harsh. Certain practices have become what [NYU sociology professor] David Garland calls “the taken-for-granted features of contemporary crime policy.” In part for this reason, despite the mounting evidence regarding secret memos, inhumane prison conditions, coercive interrogations, and interference with defense lawyers, the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror went largely unchecked and unchanged.
Forman argues that by placing all the blame on isolated Bush Administration officials, we avoid confronting our own responsibility (p. 339): Read the rest of this entry »