Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama’s Gitmo

The Next Guantánamo
The New York Times, Editorial, April 12, 2009

The Obama administration is basking in praise for its welcome commitment to shut down the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay. But it is acting far less nobly when it comes to prisoners held at a larger, more secretive military detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. [full article]


As a Senator and as a presidential candidate, Obama repeatedly and forcefully said that he thought prisoner held at Guantanamo deserved the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court. Now on the same issue, but a different facility, he is singing a different tune.

Recently the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that non-Afghan detainees at the US Bagram Prison in Afghanistan captured outside Afghanistan had the same due process rights that the Supreme Court last year gave to prisoners at Guantánamo. At issue were three prisoners at Bagram, two from Yemen and one from Tunisia, held by the U.S. military at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan without charges for more than six years. The Court ruled they have a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. The Obama administration is appealing the ruling.

I am not quite sure how I feel about the whole issue of giving captured prisoners due process rights. I oppose extending constitutional protection to captured POW’s. We should follow the Geneva Convention and established rules of war. However, in an unconventional war, how does one determine if someone is an “enemy combatants” or someone who just got rounded up accidentally? When the enemy is not the army of an opposing nation and wears no uniform, it makes the rules a little murky. I don’t want to turn loose terrorist to kill again, however we should not hold indefinitely people who may be innocent. While the issues are not simple, the Court has ruled narrowly and I think wisely. I think the Bush administration was wrong and the Court was correct.

The issue regarding Bagram is exactly the same as at Guantanamo and the position of the Obama administration is exactly the same as the position of the Bush administration. Obama is appealing the ruling and arguing that the ruling would “impose serious practical burdens on, and potential harm to, the Government and its efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan.” Does that sound familiar?

The NY Times has taken issue with Obama on his reaction to the court ruling, but most of the establishment is keeping quite. It seems Obama can do no wrong even when his position is indistinguishable from the Bush position on the same issue. Where are all of those voices that condemned Bush? Were they expressing a principled conviction or just anti-Bush? Do I detect some hypocrisy? Either Bush and Obama are right; or, Bush and Obama are wrong.

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