Patterico's Pontifications

5/14/2009

Hope and Change: Obama keeps military commissions for detainees!

Filed under: — Karl @ 11:31 pm

[Posted by Karl]

As Jim Geraghty would (and probably will) say, all of Obama’s statements come with an expiration date — all of them:

President Obama has decided to keep the military commission system that his predecessor created to try suspected terrorists but will ask Congress to expand the rights of defendants to contest the charges against them, officials briefed on the plan said Thursday.

Mr. Obama will ask for an additional 120-day delay in nine pending hearings before commissions so the administration can revamp the procedures to provide more due process to detainees, the officials said. The new system would limit the use of hearsay, ban evidence gained from cruel treatment, give defendants more latitude to pick their own lawyers and provide more protection if they do not testify.

The decision, to be announced Friday, could set off more criticism from civil libertarian and liberal groups that have increasingly complained that Mr. Obama has not made a sharper break from former President George W. Bush’s terrorism policies.

In fact, the ACLU was already on record against it (the Left is not always against pre-emptive strikes).

The “expanded rights” Obama provides are not much. For example, detainees already had the right to private counsel. Evidence obtained through cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was already inadmissible if obtained after the passage of the December 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. The shifting of the burden on hearsay is unlikely to change many rulings, let alone outcomes. Obama’s flunkies are trying to defend him by noting that Obama never rejected the possibility of using military tribunals, pointing to legislation he supported as a senator in 2006 — but that legislation was far more radical than what is described now.

This looks to be the latest Obama Three-Step:

First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party’s base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it’s the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult. Repeat as necessary.

In February, the Obama administration ruled that some 600 enemy combatants at Bagram have no constitutional rights. In March, Obama dropped the term “enemy combatant,” but adopted almost the same standard the Bush administration used to detain people without charge. In April, the administration appealed a court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. It is beginning to look like “repeat as necessary” is a monthly event.

This particular three-step is interesting because Obama is asking for another 120-day delay of hearings at Guantanamo. Such a delay would be useful for an administration that still has no plan for delivering on Obama’s campaign promise to shut down the facility, wouldn’t it?

–Karl

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