President Obama today approved the resumption of military trials at Guantanamo Bay for those detainees designated by the Justice Department for the military justice system. New military trials at Guantanamo were stopped in January 2009 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates pending a review of US detention policy.
It's worth taking a minute to stop and consider that this is coming from a President who, as a U.S. Senator, repeatedly blasted George Bush's detainee policies and referred to Guantanamo as a "legal black hole" that he said he'd close within a year of taking office. Today, he is in some ways preserving a system the Bush Administration created.
Senior administration officials this afternoon were going to great lengths to say these are NEW and IMPROVED policies that both protect national security and preserve American "values." And they do provide more protections for detainees. But the changes really are just tinkering with the margins of the system that Bush set up.
For example, the most controversial component of the Bush Administration's legal terror policies was the notion that the government could hold certain suspects at Guantanamo indefinitely, without charging them with a crime. That policy of so-called "indefinite detention" was once considered so lawless that civil liberties groups said it put America in the same league as a tyrannical, despotic state.
But Obama signaled 18 months ago that he was going to continue the policy, and today he did so officially by Executive Order.
Senior officials this afternoon insisted that Obama's "indefinite detention" policy is different--more lawful and more respectful of detainees' rights--than Bush's policy of indefinite detention.
Under Bush, for example, enemy combatants went before an administrative board once a year to see if they still should be detained. Under the Obama policy, those reviews will take place every six months. Under Bush, the detainees had a "personal representative" who presented their cases. Under Obama, the detainees will have a "personal representative" who presents their cases and who can see more of the evidence. And they can also can get an outside lawyer if they so choose. Another difference? Under Bush, the administrative boards had three military officials who reviewed the cases. Under Obama, the boards will have SIX officials from different government agencies.
"Important changes," a senior administration official said this afternoon.
But these changes are a far cry from what President Obama indicated when he was candidate Obama -- and a long way from what his supporters on the Left thought he would do if elected.