Monday, November 10, 2008

More On Obama And Guantanamo

Over at Folo, Lotus quoted an Associated Press article from today about how the Obama transition team is thinking of handling Guantanamo:

WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama's advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds, of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice.

During his campaign, Obama described Guantanamo as a "sad chapter in American history" and has said generally that the U.S. legal system is equipped to handle the detainees. But he has offered few details on what he planned to do once the facility is closed.

Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.

A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final.

Obama Wants US Trials for Gitmo Detainees

The first and second group I have no problem with. That's what I suggested a few days ago. What I didn't suggest was the third group, which strikes me as having no real reason for existing. What could possibly be so secret that it couldn't be handled by the Federal courts using Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), which is designed for the purpose of vetting and handling classified information needed for trials? This act has been used to try many people where classified information was involved, including spies, White House aides, and even terrorists.

As regular Folo commenter Mary writes, that's not the problem they're trying to solve at all:

I’d say NOT having a “new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases” would be the foremost step.

Courts have handled national security information during times when we had hundreds and hundreds of nukes primed to go off at the shoe drop of a nutcase like Kruschev - they can handle the national security aspects of the guys living in caves cases. The only reasons to handle it otherwise are to engage in coverups, which [in my opinion] Obama will be likely to want to do, [because] it is certainly going to harsh his mellow to get his hands dirty with [t]he real messes.

Comment 1: Obama’s plans for the Guantánamo detainees

By the way, at the blogs I frequent, there are several bloggers or commenters who go by the handle "Mary". For me, this is the Mary, the one who writes eloquently and knowledgeably about torture and the law, as she did here, in answer to a comment by another commenter:

“Perhaps the Gitmo related issues are not as simple as some suggested?”

Depends on what “issues” you mean. The issue of what you do about the war crimes committed against all the “mistakes” (i.e., non-combatants shipped out of country in severe breaches of the Geneva Conventions) isn’t very simple at all, [especially] if you put the victims on US soil. That’s the reason the Bushies haven’t wanted to do it - despite the fact that the WH got a direct briefing by the fall of 2002 indicating that a minimum of 1/3 of detainees not only had no ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban at all, but had never even had any ties to any of the Mujahideen groups.

”We’ve been in uncharted territory dealing with these enemy combatants in the war against terrorists”

Nope - this is actually charted territory. Charted under the decades of dealing with pirates and anarchist destructionists and saboteurs - - - and with protected persons.


“Obama is a constitutional scholar, so I am sure that he will get this mess straightened out in a constitutionally acceptable way.”

I’m not. Obama won’t be acting as a removed and objective constitutional scholar - he’s going to be acting as a man who is being given all kinds of power and who has all kinds of interests groups now, including the men and women who are the Executive Branch torturers and the many soldiers who were rooked into acting at Bagram, GITMO, the South Carolina brig, and elsewhere and who have been engaged in war crimes under every reasonable definition of same. There’s no way Obama, who couldn’t even stand minimally straight through the FISA telecom immunity votes, is going to give up power and alienate intelligence communities and military communities by doing the right thing. It hasn’t been in his make-up so far and I don’t believe in a scenario where backbone and integrity will spring from his forehead, fully wedded, like Athenian twins.

He was a better choice than McCain, but he never was going to be a man who did the right thing when it came to not just GITMO, but the tens of thousands of detainees in our other detention facilities. The sad new for this country is that we just don’t really have much in the way of people who will stand and do the right thing anymore, and where once they would have been admired, now the Moras and Swifts and Tagubas get sent by both political parties to sit on the back of the bus and the asinine and enablers get feted.

Comment 5: Obama’s plans for the Guantánamo detainees

As you may recall that last response echoes what I wrote in the open letter, but I couldn't have come up with that phrase about Athenian twins to save my life.

I don't make a habit of just reprinting comments like this, but until Mary starts her own blog, or starts publishing at someone else's, this is the best alternative. Head on over to Folo to read the rest. It's worth the time.

UPDATE (Nov. 11): Mary dropped by in the comments, and left a bit of horror to contemplate:

Yet [Barack Obama] more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.

The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.

Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact

I think the headline says it best - an out of control intelligence policy is likely to stay that way, with maybe a little bit of oversight.

I'll note that this is early policy discussion, but it's also being done in the open, which means that they're trying to find out how acceptable it is. Who "they" is may also be open to question. "They" may have less power to influence policy than they'd like you to think. However, as the WSJ article I quoted says, reversals like this are certainly in character for Obama. If you don't find it acceptable that we're kidnapping people and torturing them, particularly our own citizens, then maybe you should let them know, and sign the AVAAZ petition if you haven't already.


Mary said...

I have those really icky, splotchy blotchy blushes, but thank you for making me look like I might need to be quarantined by the CDC. *g* And you glossed over the lack of proofing and typos and rambling. ;)

That is a wonderful open letter. I'd like to have faith that it will be read and processed. It is one of those areas where the suspicions tat there isn't much hope, gets reinforcement, once there's a lock on the position, from stories like this one:

and you have even less hope.

Reading that "President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say" and that those include "White House sanctioned [] use of harsh intelligence techniques -- which some consider torture" (apparently not Obama) and that all the kidnap and disappearances of children and abuse is "a very centrist approach" per his advisors, well, it doesn't really make me wave my HOPE sign very hard.

It would be really, really nice to be wrong though.

Cujo359 said...

Hi Mary,

Sorry to have ruined your complexion this morning, but it will be back to normal soon. Even icky and splotchy, it's still good to see you on the Tubez.

This is the sort of thing I was afraid Obama would do, and it was why he was my least favorite candidate among the Democrats. Dodd stood up against the FISA trashing, Kucinich prepared a list of impeachable offenses, and Edwards pushed the "main" candidates as hard as anyone on insurance reform, and the shrinking of the middle class. Those guys showed that they can stand up. Yet they were all less acceptable than this guy - because we really have to get beyond all that anger and partisanship, dontchaknow.

This has been why I was more concerned about electing better Congresspeople. The only thing that will make Obama do the right thing is if it's also the only practical option left.

Unfortunately, we're stuck with this, so I guess we'll have to figure out how to deal with it.