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Jayne Lyn Stahl Headshot

How About a "National Interest" Study Group?

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In the aftermath of Wednesday's Iraq Study Group findings, James Baker told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper that, while we should strive for troop withdrawal as early as 2008, we can expect a significant American presence, in Iraq, for some time after that, to "protect our longterm national interests." Indeed, and what would those longterm national interests happen to be? And how would Mr. Cheney's Halliburton factor into the equation?

With hardly a peep from anyone, and without the approval of Congress, the Pentagon is invoking "emergency authority" to build a behemoth compound, on a deserted airstrip in Guantanamo Bay, to hold trials of nearly 100 of more than 400 "enemy combatants" that remain at the detention center in Cuba. The use of "emergency authority," in this manner, by the Pentagon is unprecedented, and seemingly derives from an executive order signed by the president shortly after 9/11.

A Department of Defense spokesperson would say only that the "emergency construction" of a court compound must begin as a matter of "national security," and "extreme urgency," according to an article in last week's Miami Herald. Yes, one can see where there might be an urgent need to get the funding to build this war crimes "mini-city" before Congress changes hands early next month, but where is congressional oversight, and public outrage, when it's most needed? Have we allowed the efforts of a group from former President Bush's administration to deflect attention away from a plan as egregious as building an altar to the dismantling of habeas corpus and due process?

By laying the groundwork for such a monolithic effort, outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is both ensuring his legacy and, simultaneously, giving Halliburton, and the vice president, an early Christmas present. After all, a Halliburton affiliate is working to win the contract to hijack our tax dollars to build this obscenity, and insult to 500 years of jurisprudence which the Pentagon thinks it can have up and running in a matter of months. The huge new compound will hold "two new courtrooms with space for two more, dining, housing and work space for up to 1,200 military and civilians working at the trials," (Miami Herald) What would the bill to taxpayers be? Oh, somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 million.

What's more, now that Congress has given the green light to the Military Commission Act of 2006 which all but dissolves the Fourth Amendment as it conveniently grants immunity from prosecution on charges of war crimes to key members of this administration, such as Mr. Rumsfeld himself, having a complex like the one the Pentagon is planning enables not just a kangaroo court, but a circus of simultaneous trials, in different parts of the compound, while counsel for the Justice and Defense Department get to make up the rules as they go along. What a fantastically innovative concept; keyword: "fantastic."

While there are cries of protest from Senator Warner, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senator Levin, who will soon replace him, we need a whole lot more discourse not just about this insidious plan to make a cottage industry of illegal detention, but about what constitutes "longterm national interest" and whether or not it coincides with what the framers of our constitution had in mind for democracy, and justice. Moreover, if we want to see real movement and change with respect to the war in Iraq, then we'd better begin by investigating whose longterm national interests are being served there, and elsewhere around the world, and whether the blood of our children and grandchildren is worth protecting their bottom line.