Earlier today, I noted that Barack Obama’s team has started hinting that they will move back towards John McCain’s position on interrogation techniqiues. Now supporters of Obama who have criticized the Bush administration’s position on indefinite detention have begun rethinking that policy as well:
As a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama sketched the broad outlines of a plan to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: try detainees in American courts and reject the Bush administration’s military commission system.
Now, as Mr. Obama moves closer to assuming responsibility for Guantánamo, his pledge to close the detention center is bringing to the fore thorny questions under consideration by his advisers. They include where Guantánamo’s detainees could be held in this country, how many might be sent home and a matter that people with ties to the Obama transition team say is worrying them most: What if some detainees are acquitted or cannot be prosecuted at all?
That concern is at the center of a debate among national security, human rights and legal experts that has intensified since the election. Even some liberals are arguing that to deal realistically with terrorism, the new administration should seek Congressional authority for preventive detention of terrorism suspects deemed too dangerous to release even if they cannot be successfully prosecuted.
“You can’t be a purist and say there’s never any circumstance in which a democratic society can preventively detain someone,” said one civil liberties lawyer, David D. Cole, a Georgetown law professor who has been a critic of the Bush administration.
You can’t? That’s all we’ve heard from the close-Gitmo crowd for the last seven years. Indefinite detention supposedly violates American values, we’re losing the war if we adapt to the threat against us, blah blah blah. Certainly Barack Obama never gave any indication of nuanced thinking along the lines of indefinite detention during the last two years while campaigning for the presidency. In fact, Obama made the absolutist case that Cole now belatedly rejects in June 2007:
“While we’re at it,” he said, “we’re going to close Guantanamo. And we’re going to restore habeas corpus. … We’re going to lead by example _ by not just word but by deed. That’s our vision for the future.
Now that Obama has to live with these decisions and not simply snipe from the sidelines, the game appears to have changed. A month ago, the NYT’s editorial board scoffed at the Bush administration’s efforts to keep Gitmo detainees from being released as merely a way to avoid bad press and not to keep dangerous people from killing Americans. Suddenly, the New York Times discovers that the American system does allow for indefinite detention to protect society from dangerous individuals without full-blown criminal trials — as with the criminally insane.
So what happens when the incoming Obama administration decides to continue indefinite detention and back away from Feinstein’s bill on interrogation techniques? Not only will the MoveOn/Code Pink crowd utterly revolt, but it will force a re-evaluation of the Bush administration’s efforts to keep this nation safe from attack — and the success he had in doing so.