Tarry for the Nonce

February 9, 2010

Obama’s Approach to Terrorism

Filed under: News, Politics — lmwalker @ 5:22 pm

I’ve read several articles in the same vein over the last month, and it’s so very true that Obama – for all his grandiose blustering about change in terrorist policy – has effectively maintained the status quo:

[T]he Administration has tried to break from its predecessors on several big antiterror issues, and it is on those that it is suffering the humiliation of having to walk back from its own righteous declarations . . .

Begin with Mr. Obama’s executive order, two days after his inauguration, to shut the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year . . . Mr. Obama’s deadline has come and gone, and Guantanamo remains open. In part this is the result of political opposition from Americans—including many Congressional Democrats—who understandably do not want terrorists in their backyards. Another problem is that European allies, while pressing for Guantanamo’s closure, have been reluctant to accept more than a handful of detainees who are deemed suitable for release. The upshot is that Congress may never appropriate the money to close Gitmo, and Mr. Obama never mentioned the prison in his State of the Union address.

Policy Failure One.

The Administration similarly has been backing away from its intention, announced in November, to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other enemy combatants in civilian court a few blocks from Ground Zero . . . Mr. Obama himself responded to criticism by suggesting that what he had in mind was a series of show trials, in which the verdict and punishment were foreordained. When NBC’s Chuck Todd asked him in November to respond to those who took offense at granting KSM the full constitutional protections due a civilian defendant, the President replied: “I don’t think it will be offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.” Mr. Obama later claimed he meant “if,” not “when,” but he undercut his own pretense of showcasing the fairness of American justice . . . In the event of an acquittal or an overturned conviction, it would be entirely legitimate under the laws of war to continue holding KSM and the others as enemy combatants. But this would defeat the moral rationale of a trial and require the Administration to explain why it was continuing to detain men whose guilt it had failed to establish in court.

Policy Failure Two.

A third policy under increasing criticism is the Administration’s approach to interrogation . . .Mr. Obama declared that responsibility for interrogating detainees would shift from the CIA to a new, FBI-led High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which would employ only tactics that are “noncoercive” or approved by the Army Field manual . . .Then came the attempted Christmas bombing . . . On [Attorney General Eric] Holder’s order, investigators immediately classified him as a criminal defendant. After interrogating him for just 50 minutes, they advised him of his right to remain silent, which he promptly exercised. Fifty minutes was plenty of time, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs assured “Fox News Sunday” viewers last month: “Abdulmutallab was interrogated, and valuable intelligence was gotten as a result of that interrogation.” Mr. Holder told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a letter last week that Abdulmutallab “more recently . . . has provided additional intelligence to the FBI”—which is encouraging if true, but makes Mr. Gibbs’s earlier assurance look empty.

I wouldn’t immediately classify this as a policy failure, but we don’t know what was done to elicit the additional intelligence. If his artificially imposed civil rights were still in place, then one may presume he gave up the information voluntarily, but he seemed a reluctant attacker in the first place. Can we rely on future attackers being so magnanimous?

Personally, I am glad that Obama has responded to public opinion and has opted not to exercise some of the more nonsensical points of his hearts-and-flowers policies, but I wonder where the liberal outcry is. Perhaps they are learning that it’s more difficult to quarterback outside the armchair.

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