Roundtable: Court Upholds Gitmo Detainees' Rights The U.S. Supreme Court gives Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to challenge their detentions, leveling a blow against the Bush administration. Meanwhile, police in a Washington D.C. neighborhood are making motorists prove their residency before driving through a checkpoint. Our panel of reporters considers that and more.
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Roundtable: Court Upholds Gitmo Detainees' Rights

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Roundtable: Court Upholds Gitmo Detainees' Rights

Roundtable: Court Upholds Gitmo Detainees' Rights

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From NPR News, this is News and Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. The U.S. Supreme Court gives Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to challenge their detentions. Meanwhile, police in a Washington D.C. neighborhood are making motorist prove they live there, before they can drive through a checkpoint. And Michelle Obama becomes a political and media target.

For more on these topics, we have radio talk show host Troy Johnson of the Troy Johnson Show in Baltimore, Michelle McCalope, a freelance writer based in Beaumont, Texas, she's also the president of the Southeast Texas Association of Black Journalists, and Kevin Merida, associate editor at the Washington Post. He is also editor of the book, "Being a Black Man at the Corner of Progress and Peril." Happy Friday, folks.

Ms. MICHELLE MCCALOPE (Freelance Writer, President, Southeast Texas Association of Black Journalists): Hello.

Mr. TROY JOHNSON (Talk Show Host, Troy Johnson Show): Hello.

Mr. KEVIN MERIDA (Associate Editor, Washington Post): Hello.

CHIDEYA: So big news. Yesterday, five-to-four ruling, the Supreme Court decided that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the constitutional right to seek release in civilian court. Kevin, what does this really mean in terms of any change in policy, law, prosecution?

Mr. MERIDA: Well, you know, what has happened is that the Bush administration's strategy for detention is continually been rebuffed by the highest court, and that really gives a lot of people pause, not only just politicians, but, you know, really the country, the whole idea of setting up this separate structure to detain those who we consider terrorists.

I mean, on the presidential campaign trail, you see that there's a very sharp distinction. Senator Obama has, you know, viewed this - looked at Senator McCain as just another area where McCain supports failed Bush administration policies.

And McCain, of course, has been saying that these are enemy combatants, and that they have never been given the rights of citizens of this country, and so he is kind of making the terrorism argument. So right now, we have a kind of a national security terrorism debate going on in the midst of this ruling.

CHIDEYA: Michelle, a lot of times within the African community, we talk about what are the rights, privileges, and limitations of how government should enforce its laws on citizens, and what the limits are of basically people's freedom of association, et cetera, because that has at certain points been abused, you know, in the past.

Ms. MCCALOPE: Uh-huh.

CHIDEYA: How do you think - is there any special perspective that some members of the black community bring to a discussion like this?

Ms. MCCALOPE: I certainly think so, because as you said, it's been abused in the past, and I just think it sets a bad precedent, you know, here in the United States we have the rights, and privileges, and protection under the law, but anytime you have the kind of system that's being set up there, where you can be detained for years with no protection, no information, I just think that it really leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the African-Americans.

For a system where you just don't have any information, because it can be abused, and if it's allowed to go on in that part of the country, or that part of the world, then, you know, African-Americans think that it can expand and go on elsewhere. And so, I don't have a problem with the ruling of the Supreme Court. I think that people who were detained should know why they are detained, and have a right to fight against it. Certainly, we want to protect ourselves against terrorists, but I do think that people who are locked up should have some rights available to them.

CHIDEYA: Troy, could we pay for this? And what I mean by that is, you know, the lawyer for Osama Bin Laden's one-time driver is - that driver is currently in Guantanamo Bay. The lawyer said, he will seek dismissal of charges against the driver, based on the new ruling. Could we, you know, despite the debate, pay for this down the road in terms of people who get out?

Mr. JOHNSON: Absolutely, I think there are some long term causes to this, because it violates what we're supposed to stand for as a nation. You know, the law basically says that enemy combatants being held with law - with the law that we have in place, it's supposed to be used when we're at war with a sovereign nation. So we violated the law. It's - we are at war with an ideology.

We're at war with the broad view of terrorism, with al-Qaeda. It's not a nation. It's not an army and a navy. You know, so I think we're in trouble. There is still - you know, I was looking at an article, there are 275 people are still at Guantanamo Bay.

The United States plans to try 80 of these detainees as - in war crime tribunal, but again, like we've stated, these people haven't had information on what's going on with them for in excess of six years in some case. So, yes, I think there are some long-term effects. We need to fix this problem.

CHIDEYA: I'm going to go to another hot story, and it's actually in D.C. where you are, Kevin. Recently, police set up car check points in the Trinidad neighborhood. People driving have to show their IDs to prove they live there, and or explain why they're traveling into the neighborhood. And the checkpoints where discontinued last night, but they might be implemented again.

Last weekend, police said they turned way about 50 motorists trying to get into the neighborhood. So, Kevin, why were the checkpoints instituted, and what's the buzz in D.C., not just from residents of the neighborhood, but from other folks in D.C.?

Mr. MERIDA: Well, they were instituted, because there have been a number of drive-by shootings that were from vehicles, and there's been a lot of just violence recently in the district all over the city, but that neighbor particularly with some gang disputes. So they tried this.

I think one of the problems was that the police chief had not really consulted the neighborhood residents, leaders before an instituting it, but the reaction was mixed in the neighborhood, actually. I mean, there we're lot of people who didn't like it, because it was inconvenient. They had to slow down. It made passage in and out of the neighborhood - some long-time residents say, hey, you know, when we had to crack wars back in the eighties, you know, we didn't see this many police around, there weren't instituted check points, and so here they are now.

But there were others who were saying that until we have some other measures, we get more cops around, and that this at least stops, makes us feels a little safer, so there was a kind of a mixed reaction, of course by civil libertarians and others who found this, including (unintelligible) city-council people, just thought it was not very well executed. Some people thought that, hey, what we need to do is get back to community policing.

Ms. MCCALOPE: Uh-huh.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me...

Mr. MERIDA: Please.

CHIDEYA: Let just jump in for a second, because NPR's All Things Considered actually spoke to a few residents in the Trinidad neighborhood, and let's hear what they had to say.

Unidentified Woman: Well, I feel better because I know the boys are going to run back and hide from what they see. They're the meaning we're (unintelligible) so I know I'm safe if they're, you know, around. When they disappear, and they'd be going on, and that's when they'll come back in the end.

Unidentified Man #1: Just violating your constitutional rights, (unintelligible) how they ask you where you're going, your phone number, and if you know anybody that lives around here for you to come around here?

Unidentified Man #2: I mean, I'm saying now I'll just get off work, right? I'll come home expecting I'm going to come my normal way. I got to ride all the way out of my way, and nobody's paying me for my gas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOHNSON: That's keeping gas prices high.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up Troy. It's like civil liberties, whatever. But my gas? It must be my gas. What do you think about their reactions, Troy?

Mr. JOHNSON: You know, I think it's - there are obviously some logical people in these communities and we are so insular. You know, we have dealt with this for many, many years, the fact that people don't really voice their opinion, until there is a microphone in from of them - in front of their faces, is a problem. You know, it would have been a great idea. OK, if there's a rash of violence and again, you know Washington D.C. is right down the street. We have the same types of problems in Baltimore just like you do in major metropolitan cities.

But you know the police are reacting to situations that are going on in that community, then fine, set up the check point. And that like any military operation should be the beginning, the spearhead. Let those officers fan out and then begin to do the community policing that is needed. Let them walk the-you know if you got as many cops down there as it seems like, let them start walking that neighborhood and talking to people and really finding out what the issues are.

And then as for all this protesters, you know, they show up when something happens. They reacted, we're reactive. Maybe some neighborhood watch programs while you got all this folks walking around would be a good way to get the answer to this.

CHIDEYA: All right. We have not very much time left and Michelle I'm going to ask you to kick off a different topic. First lady Michelle Obama? Question mark? We'll find out. Now folks are starting to dig into her. Fox News called her Obama's Baby Mama, there's websites, rumors about whether or not she used a racial slur. No evidence of the sort, but it's going around. Do you think that she is, A, getting unfair scrutiny? And B, do you think she's up to the task of dealing with it?

Ms. MCCALOPE: I don't think that she's getting unfair scrutiny. I think it comes with the territory of being potentially being the first African-American first lady. It's all part of the process. And I think that she's certainly up to the task. She's a very intelligent woman, very strong willed. But I think the public relates to Michelle Obama, she's a working mother, she is educated, she's a good role model, and she talks a lot about her success story, you know coming from the South side of Chicago, and possibly being the first African-American first lady. And I think many women and many people in general can relate to that type of story. We all want to hear that we can rise above our circumstances and it's not where you come from. That doesn't determine where you're going. So, I think just her story in general will help her a lot to deal with the challenges that are coming. And she has to know that they're coming and that's just part of politics.

CHIDEYA: All right, Kevin we have just a tiny smidge of time. There's also an internet fight. Barack Obama launched something called There's also republican website out that is basically, you know, framing, you know, him and trying to pull out various rumors. This is kind of a response that. Do you think that that was a smart political move for the Obama campaign?

Mr. MERIDA: Yeah. I think in this viral world, that we exist in now, I think that you have to fight that with your own kinds of sites. I mean he's not the first to do that and I think it was probably wise and in keeping with his other online innovations.

CHIDEYA: All right, well guys I want to thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. MCCALOPE: You're welcome. Thank you.

Mr. JOHNSON: Thank you.

Mr. MERIDA: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Michelle McCalope is a freelance writer based in Beaumont, Texas and president of the Southeast Texas Association of Black journalists. Kevin Merida is an associate editor of the Washington Post and editor of the book "Being a Black Man at the Corner of Progress and Peril". He joined from studios at the Washington Post. And Troy Johnson is a talk radio show host in Baltimore, Maryland. He joined us from the studios at the Baltimore Sun. And just ahead creative ways to get children interested in Science and technology. And to look at how black fatherhood is portrayed on TV reality shows.

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