Obama Retains Bush-era Military Tribunals

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba


Last year then presidential candidate Barack Obama called the Military Commissions being used to hear the cases of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay “an enormous failure.” Now he is accepting the Bush Administration’s thesis that civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Bush.
President Obama is also in agreement with Bush that terror suspects should be viewed as enemy fighters. Other areas of common ground are Obama’s decision to oppose the release of prisoner abuse photographs, supporting the indefinite detention for some detainees, and restoring Military Commissions.
He denounced this “shadow justice system” in 2007 and said civilian courts were the best option. After the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision gave terrorists habeas corpus rights, Obama laid into the Bush Administration’s “legal black hole” and “dangerously flawed legal approach,” which “undermines the very values we are fighting to defend.” Now Obama has reversed himself.
It will be interesting to watch Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal defend the new Military Commissions in court. In 2007 he wrote in “Slate,” “Military commission trials are not ‘equal justice’: For the first time since equality was written into our Constitution, America has created one criminal trial for ‘us’ and one for ‘them.’ Whatever else might be said about the Guantanamo courtroom, it will never symbolize America or what it is about.”
The Military Commissions Act was passed by Congress and it respects our obligations under the Geneva Convention. Congress took this initiative because of its belief that the Constitutional provision guaranteeing habeas corpus does not apply to alien enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States. Provisions in the Act removing habeas corpus does not apply to United States citizens. The Congress then concluded that this law does not conflict with the Constitution.
It is difficult to see how Obama will be able to close the Guantanamo facility by the end of the year as he has promised. Congressional opposition to bringing the prisoners to the United States is also increasing. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said Guantanamo Bay was the best venue to try terror suspects. “Given the disruption and potential dangers caused by bringing terror suspects into American communities, the secure, modern courtroom at Guantanamo Bay is the appropriate place for commission proceedings,” McConnell said. The camp still holds 241 inmates from 30 different countries.

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Four Former CIA Directors Oppose Obama Declassification of "Torture Memos"

Protestors Demonstrate Waterboarding

Protestors Demonstrate Waterboarding


President Obama’s decision to release the so-called “torture memos” remains controversial in the national security community. Obama overruled the advice of his CIA director, Leon Panetta, and four prior CIA directors by releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program. Former CIA director Michael Hayden immediately responded by saying the action will make it more difficult for the CIA to defend the nation.
As former CIA Director Hayden says, “”The (harsh) techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA … fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations.”
The U.S. does not torture. The memos laid out the extent of exactly how far we could go before it would become torture, because it was important not to cross a line into torture. A major hold up in releasing prisoners from Guantanamo has been obtaining guarantees from other governments that they will not torture prisoners who are returned to them. Guantanamo and prisons in Afghanistan are completely consistent with our international obligations. The United States has violated no laws.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is asking why President Obama simultaneously withheld other classified memos demonstrating what those interrogation techniques produced. They “show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified, and I am formally requesting it,” Cheney said.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the former Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said it was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, “because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.”
It has also been revealed that the CIA briefed top lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees more than 30 times about this program. The techniques are now controversial but they were not in years past. Congress could have killed the program at any time by withholding funding.
Dennis Blair, the National Intelligence Director, in a memo last week to his staff, also said Congress had been notified of the tactics: “From 2002 to 2006 when the use of these techniques ended, the leadership of the CIA repeatedly reported their activities both to Executive Branch policymakers and to members of Congress, and received permission to continue to use the techniques.”
Blair got it right when he noted how easy it is to condemn this “on a bright sunny day in April 2009.” In addition, George Tenet, who served as CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, believes the enhanced interrogations program saved lives.
The tactics outlined in the CIA memos are the same techniques used on Americans for training purposes. Everything that was done in this program are tactics that our own people go through in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Evasion) training. We did not torture our own people.

Did the United States Torture Prisoners?

torture
Today President Obama said “A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.” The President released five “torture memos” compiled during the Bush administration and he vowed never to use these techniques again. Many news reports are now claiming our nation used torture and that it was not effective.
The techniques were brutal, but they did not fall under the definition of torture and they clearly saved lives. The U.S. violated no anti-torture laws. The use of these techniques does not inflict either physical or psychological damage. As former CIA Director Hayden says, “”The (harsh) techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA … as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations.” Former CIA Director George Tenet maintains, “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than [what] the FBI, the [CIA], and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.” Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said, “We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened.”
The most important legacy from the administration of former President George W. Bush is that the nation remained safe from attacks after September 11, 2001. The terrorist plots directed at America all failed, while they were successful in Spain, London, Indonesia and India. There appears to be little appreciation of this accomplishment while considerable sympathy is being expressed for the enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay.
The United States has always been far more conservative than any other country or entity in our military doctrines. We don’t behead innocent people as examples. We don’t hold troops for years and subject them to beatings, torture and starvation. America does not train its children to kill, and we don’t use mentally challenged individuals as suicide bombers.
If the CIA or our military is guilty of torture those individuals should be prosecuted. However, President Obama has already told us this is not going to happen. I have read the memos and they prove to me we did not torture.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage both worked from day one on the Guantanamo situation. For example, Ambassador Pierre Prosper, the U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, was under a barrage of questions and directions almost daily from Powell or Armitage to repatriate every detainee who could be repatriated. As early as 2004, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England was calling for Guantanamo to be shut down. President Bush also said he wanted the facility closed.
Finally, the United States has been waterboarding its own special forces troops for years to prep them for being captured, and that’s mild compared to other things they are subjected too in training.

On Terror Suspects and State Secrets Obama Administration Now Agrees With Bush

President Obama Signs an Executive Order Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison

President Obama Signs an Executive Order Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison

On Terror Suspects and State Secrets Obama Administration Now Agrees With Bush by Gregory Hilton–The treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center in Cuba was a significant issue during the 2008 presidential campaign. Concern for the detainee’s treatment was frequently cited as an example of the sharp differences between the two political parties. It was portrayed as an example of how real change would be brought to White House with Barack Obama’s election.
President Obama frequently made this claim and on his second day in office he signed an Executive Order calling for Guantanamo’s closing within a year. The national news media described the action as a complete reversal of past policies, but so far the differences appear to be minute.
During the past two weeks the intense partisan debate over Gitmo largely evaporated on Capitol Hill. Attorney General Eric Holder, Solicitor General-designate Elena Kagan and CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta all endorsed policies implemented during the Bush era. The detainee issue was raised during the presidential debates when Obama said “what we have is a flawed system.” His campaign web site said: “Barack believes we must protect the principles which have created and sustained our freedoms for over two centuries because we cannot truly protect America without preserving the Constitution, the writ of Habeas Corpus, and the Bill of Rights.”
The Obama campaign’s foreign policy spokesperson was Susan Rice, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Speaking of Bush’s policy on detainees, Rice said the “Administration has for seven years pursued a stupid and fundamentally failed policy. The way you deal with it is not to hold somebody in violation of our Constitution, indefinitely in detention and never convict them.”
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said Osama bin Laden should have habeas corpus rights if he were captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Both Rice and Kerry quoted arguments developed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering Elena Kagan’s nomination to be the new U.S. Solicitor General. She is currently the Dean at Harvard Law School, and many believe she will eventually succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
In sharp contrast to the 2008 debate, Kagan and Attorney General Holder both say the government can hold suspected terrorists without criminal charge or trial as war prisoners. They opposed the position of the American Civil Liberties Union and said they were in agreement with the Supreme Court case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld which recognized the power of the government to detain unlawful combatants until the cessation of hostilities.
Attorney General Holder also promised Senators he would not bring prosecutions against Guantanamo interrogators. CIA Director-designate Panetta went even further by saying some al Qaeda detainees are “too dangerous to stand trial.”
During last year’s campaign John McCain also supported the closure of Guantanamo, and President Bush advocated the same thing in 2006. Bush said “I would like to close Guantanamo. … We are a nation of laws. Eventually, these people will have trials and they will have counsel and they will be represented in a court of law.”
The Bush Administration was not able to close Gitmo because some of the detainees’ homelands refused to take them back. Those who were willing to do so would not provide credible assurances they would take steps to prevent the detainees from returning to terrorist activities. Another major problem was bringing to trail detainee cases where there was a lack of admissible evidence because of national security concerns.
Of the detainees who were released from Gitmo, 62 out of 550 returned to terrorist activities. That figure does not include those who only engaged in propaganda.
The Obama Administration is clearly beginning to appreciate the dilemmas confronting their predecessors. The Obama campaign website contained a “Plan to Change Washington.” It said “the Bush Administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the ‘state secrets’ privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.”
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday it was the Obama Administration invoking state secrets and supporting Bush’s position regarding torture abroad. The Obama attorneys said state secrets and national security would be put at risk if the court allowed the suit to proceed. No part of the case was allowed to be litigated “without risking a national security breach,” said an Administration spokesman. They were in effect saying national security concerns trump the due process of law.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the alleged terrorists said: “This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.”