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Guantanamo Comes to Main Street?

Do you remember where you were as the clock approached midnight on the last night of 2011? President Obama was signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which has been described by a leading legal commentator as an “historic assault on American liberty.”

The new law gives the president and the military the right to detain anyone – including US citizens – anywhere – including within the US – and hold them indefinitely without charges, based on allegations of vaguely defined terrorist activity or “substantial support” for it that will not be tested in a court of law.

English: United States President Barack Obama ...
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At least one local group characterizes it as “Guantanamo Comes to Main Street.” The Chicago chapter of World Can’t Wait (WCW) is one of dozens of groups who sponsored a rally in Chicago on the tenth anniversary of Guantanamo detention centers this January. WCW worked with Amnesty International, Witness against Torture, White Rose  and many others to mobilize a “human chain” of people in orange jumpsuits stretching from Congress to the White House.

Len Goodman, Chicago criminal defense attorney who represents Shawali Khan, a Guantanamo detainee, spoke at the Chicago rally.

“Of all the promises made by candidate Barack Obama, it was his promise to end the lawlessness of the Bush years by closing Guantanamo, ending torture and restoring the United States’ reputation for justice that got me out in the streets and knocking on doors. And it is President Obama’s failure to keep these promises that makes it impossible for me to support him again,” said Goodman.

Chicago has its own legacy of torture, and on the day following the rally, the Chicago City Council held  hearings on declaring Chicago a torture-free city.  A few cases of Chicago police torture have been resolved, but activists like Mark Clements, a death penalty abolition activist and himself a survivor of Chicago police torture, are working to get the city to promise that torture never again occurs within the boundaries of Chicago.

Joe Scarry, an activist who writes a blog on anti-war and civil liberties issues, criticized the city’s participation in what he sees as a systemic threat to civil liberties: “A perfect storm is brewing: leading activists have been threatened in recent years with grand jury subpoenas; now, organizers of all stripes here in Chicago are up in arms about Mayor Emanuel’s draconian restrictions on freedom of expression; at the same time, with the signing into law of NDAA, people around the country are waking up to the civil liberties threat they live under in Obama’s U.S.A.  People are mad as hell — a lot of people! It’s not just the usual suspects anymore.”

In the eyes of these groups, closing Guantanamo has become the cutting edge in a widening battle to defend not only human rights and the right to dissent, but the rule of law itself.

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