The intense focus on the differences between President Barack Obama and House Republicans on government spending and tax cuts has eclipsed the yawning gulf that separates Obama and the incoming House leadership on counterterrorism policy, Guantanamo and the use of civilian courts to try accused Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other terrorism suspects.
At the moment, neither Obama nor the Republican congressional leadership seems eager to be diverted from a discussion about the economy to a national-security debate. But while the budget-related issues seem readily susceptible to a meet-in-the-middle compromise, the gap between the two sides over the war on terror can’t be bridged as easily.
Decisions on many contentious questions about the treatment of alleged terrorists have been deferred for months by the Obama administration in what was generally regarded as a successful attempt to keep them from becoming election issues. But now human rights advocates are pushing Obama to act.
“They’ve identified a bunch of cases that are amenable to trial in civilian court, but they haven’t acted on it, except in one case. ... Those things ought to start moving,” said Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First. “It’s not going to get any easier. ... You’ve got a choice between a festering sore or you rip the Band-Aid off.”
Massimino said a good time to announce new civilian court prosecutions would be in the coming days, after jurors in New York return a verdict in the case of the only former Guantanamo prisoner to go to trial in the U.S., Ahmed Ghailani. Closing arguments are under way this week for Ghailani, an alleged Al Qaeda operative who stands accused of plotting bombings that killed 224 people at U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.
“Do it on the heels of a conviction,” Massimino said. “Nothing defuses the hysteria more than just going about the business of demonstrating success. ... The best way to push back is: just do it.”
Closing the prison at Guantanamo was a key campaign promise of Obama’s, and he reaffirmed that goal in the opening days of his administration. But looming large over any attempt by Obama to bring Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. for civilian trials — a central part of the administration’s detainee strategy — is a measure the White House agreed to in June 2009 as a way to stave off more stringent limits on the president’s authority.
Under legislative language attached to a series of funding bills since that time, Obama is obliged to give 45 days advance notice to Congress before bringing anyone held in the prison to the U.S. If Obama wants to get new criminal trials going, Congress has what amounts to a month and a half to try to stop him. It could do so by attaching funding restrictions to a measure he feels compelled to sign, like the Defense Authorization bill, which could carry “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal language.
“They have a clear window after the election where the existing rules would allow them to bring detainees into the U.S. for prosecution,” said Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress. “We need to keep making progress and can’t allow what is likely to be a very aggressive Republican congressional caucus ... to dictate to the administration where it is going on its policy.” [...] go read the rest
Extreme divide? Like the one that tells everyone paying attention that Obama is a Jihadi and/or a Jihadi sympathizer? That divide?
The Snooper Report.
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