At a town hall meeting in Wayne, Pa.,in June 2008,then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., embraced an issue hardly made for his own TV ads: the rights of detainees accused of terrorism.
“I think we should make it an issue,” Obama said, referring to the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Boumediene et al v Bush “that said we are going to live up to our ideals when it comes to rule of law.
Basically what it said was those prisoners that we hold in Guantanamo deserve to be able to go before a court and say, “It wasn’t me” or “I didn’t do it.” Obama, a former senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, cited “that principle of habeas corpus, that a state can’t just hold you for any reason without charging you and without giving you any kind of due process — that’s the essence of who we are. I mean, you remember during the Nuremberg trials, part of what made us different was even after these Nazis had performed atrocities that no one had ever seen before, we still gave them a day in court and that taught the entire world about who we are but also the basic principles of rule of law. Now the Supreme Court upheld that principle yesterday“. Political Punch
Now that he is president, Barack Obama has changed his mind, oh not about Gitmo, he is looking forward to welcoming those terrorists onto American Soil. But at
Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan terrorists sit in a prison without the right of Habeas Corpus. Honestly for America its a good thing they are being held in prison, on the other hand it is just another example of Barack Obama lying to the American People:
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By WILLIAM MCGURN
Helen Thomas: Why is the president blocking habeas corpus from prisoners at Bagram? I thought he taught constitutional law. And these prisoners have been there . . .
Robert Gibbs: You’re incorrect that he taught on constitutional law.
You know we live in interesting times when Helen Thomas is going after Barack Obama. Miss Thomas was asking the White House press secretary last week why detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan should not have the same right to challenge their detention in federal court that last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Boumediene v. Bush gave to Guantanamo’s detainees. All Mr. Gibbs could do was interrupt and correct the doyenne of the White House press corps about Mr. Obama’s class as a law professor.
The precipitate cause of Miss Thomas’s question was a ruling earlier this month by federal district Judge John Bates. Judge Bates says that last year’s Supreme Court ruling on Gitmo does apply to Bagram. The administration has appealed, saying that giving detainees such rights could lead to protracted litigation, disclosure of intelligence secrets and harm to American security. The wonderful irony is that, at least on the logic, everyone is right.
Start with Judge Bates. The judge is surely correct when he says the detainees brought in to Bagram from outside the country are “virtually identical” to those held at Guantanamo. He’s also correct in asserting that the Supreme Court ruled the way it did out of concern “that the Executive could move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain an individual” at Bagram.
But President Obama’s appeal is also right. Though most headlines from the past few days have focused on the release of Justice Department memos on CIA interrogation, the president’s embrace of the Bush position on Bagram is far more striking. Mr. Gibbs became tongue-tied while trying to explain that stand. But the Justice Department brief is absolutely correct in asserting that “there are many legitimate reasons, having nothing to do with the intent to evade judicial review, why the military might detain an individual in Bagram.”
Finally, critics like Miss Thomas also have it right. In a long and thorough post called “Obama and habeas corpus — then and now,” Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional law litigator who blogs at Salon.com, exposes the gaping contradiction between past Obama rhetoric on the inviolability of the right to habeas corpus and the new Obama reality. He also quotes Mr. Obama’s reaction to Boumediene as a “rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo.”
Manifestly, Mr. Greenwald believes that “black hole” is simply moving to Bagram. “I wish I could be writing paeans celebrating the restoration of the Constitution and the rule of law,” he writes. “But these actions — these contradictions between what he said and what he is doing, the embrace of the very powers that caused so much anger towards Bush/Cheney — are so blatant, so transparent, so extreme, that the only way to avoid noticing them is to purposely shut your eyes as tightly as possible and resolve that you don’t want to see it, or that you’re so convinced of his intrinsic Goodness that you’ll just believe that even when it seems like he’s doing bad things, he must really be doing them for the Good.”
How can all these people be right? The answer is that each is responding to a different contradiction raised by the president’s Guantanamo policy. In an impassioned 2006 speech on the Senate floor on the right to habeas corpus, Mr. Obama declared, “I do not want to hear that this is a new world and we face a new kind of enemy.” During the campaign, his language implied that all we needed to settle the detainee issue once and for all was to shut down Gitmo.
As president, he is finding out that this very much is a new world, that we do face a new enemy, and that the problems posed by Guantanamo have less to do with the place than the people we detain there.
Put simply, the U.S. needs the ability to detain people we know to be dangerous without the evidence that might stand up in a federal criminal court. Because we can’t say when this war will end, moreover, we also need to be able to detain them indefinitely. This is what makes the war on terror different, and why our policies will never fit neatly into a legal approach that is either purely criminal or purely military.
The good news is that Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that the relative obscurity of Bagram, not to mention the approval he has received on Guantanamo, enables him to do the right thing here without, as Mr. Greenwald notes, worrying too much that he will be called to account for a substantive about-face.
The bad news is that we seem to have reached the point where our best hope for sensible war policy now depends largely on presidential cynicism.