Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Told 'Ya So

Obama is supposed to be a great scholar of constitutional law, right? Yet Republicans said, again and again, that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was consistent with U.S. law and international treaty. And we told 'um that civilian trials for terrorists wouldn't work. Still, President Obama mandated closing Gitmo in his first week of office.

So, in one sense, it's no surprise that the Administration on Monday announced the resumption of military trials for detainees. I'm pleased that they're come around to reality.

But, even the Democrat-slurping WaPo columnist Dana Milbank mocks the Administration's insistence that it hasn't reversed course:
And so they assembled some top-notch lawyers from across the executive branch and held a conference call Monday afternoon with reporters. The ground rules required that the officials not be identified, which was appropriate given their Orwellian assignment. They were to argue that Obama's new detention policy is perfectly consistent with his old detention policy.

Not only had he revoked his pledge to close Gitmo within a year, but he also had contradicted his claim that a detention policy "can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone." His executive order did exactly what he said must not be done, in a style favored by his predecessor in the Oval Office.

"This detention without trial - what's different from the Bush administration?" a French reporter from Le Monde asked on the call.

Good question. The answer, from the Anonymous Lawyers, was technical: "We have a much more thorough process here of representation. . . . There's an opportunity for an oral presentation to the board."

CBS's Jan Crawford was not impressed with this answer. "What specifically is different in this than what we were living under that was so bad in the Bush administration?" she asked.

Anonymous Lawyers replied that cases would be reviewed every six months instead of every year. They also spoke about their "intent to comply with Article 75 of Additional Protocol One."

This still wasn't working for Yochi Dreazen of National Journal. "It seems like what is happening now with this executive order is effectively ratifying the status quo," he said. "Is that a fair read?"

The Anonymous Lawyers did not think this was a fair read. Over and over again, they repeated their theme: "The basic message is the National Archives speech remains the framework under which Guantanamo closure is being done." . . .

In a sense, Monday's announcement was an acknowledgment that Obama had set expectations unrealistically high during the campaign and early in his term. "The president has now institutionalized a process that a lot of his political base imagined he was going to get rid of," said my former Post colleague Benjamin Wittes, now a Brookings authority on detention policy. . .

And how about working with Congress? An Anonymous Lawyer said that this was a "discretionary executive act" that is "well within the authority . . . of the president."

Funny, that's just what Bush's lawyers used to say.
(via reader Doug J.)

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