Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On liberty & security, at Gitmo & beyond

Two days after his inauguration, President Barack Obama issued four executive orders directly relating to Guantánamo, the individuals detained there, and the use of interrogation of individuals in the custody of U.S. officials. As I've posted, Obama’s orders:
► Promised to close Guantánamo within a year, signaling the end of an infamous prison that had become an international symbol for lawlessness and for which the Bush Administration had received much criticism; and
► Established a special interagency task force to "identify lawful options for the disposition of individuals captured or apprehended in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations."
The recommendations of the Task Force were due yesterday. But Obama officials announced that they would not meet the deadline and issued a preliminary report instead.
The preliminary report indicates that Obama may not be as inclined to reverse Bush’s "war on terror" policies as completely as he'd indicated during his campaign. The report calls military commissions an appropriate forum for trying some of the Guantánamo detainees -- as well as others who may at some future time be picked up “on the battlefield” on suspicion that they'd violated the laws of war. The report also indicates that the current commissions, established under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, would need some serious revamping, so that, for instance
► The use of statements obtained through torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment would be prohibited;
► The use of hearsay would be subject to further regulation;
► The rules regarding the use of classified evidence would be changed to resemble federal law more closely; and
► All charges levied by the military commissions charges would be cognizable under the laws of war.
The preliminary report does indicate a preference for trying on federal criminal law charges, in federal criminal courts, "where feasible." But the continued use of military commissions, coupled with the possibility of preventive detention for some individuals, as set out in another one of Obama’s executive orders for the disposition of Guantánamo detainees, imply that the Obama Administration may have some difficulty establishing a national security policy that keeps intact cherished ideals of civil liberties and rights for all.

(photo above of Camp Justice, Guantánamo (c) 2008 Diane Marie Amann)

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