1/23/09

Where Do We Go From Here?

In an editorial today, National Review criticizes yesterday's biggest story as being merely symbolic. In reality, they claim, Obama has seen the national security light and will continue detentions, interrogations and tribunals just as they were practiced under former-President Bush.
As a candidate, he railed against indefinite detention and praised the Clinton-era approach of trying terrorists in civilian courts. Now responsible for national security, Obama has come around to the understanding that there are people who, though known to pose grave danger, cannot be tried because our intelligence is not usable in civilian court.
That's one way of putting it. If most of our intelligence "is not usable in civilian court," it's because it was obtained through coercion. If you don't like the legal options available to President Obama, blame the Bush administration. They have placed us in grave danger by circumventing the law and short-circuiting any normal legal process. Now we have a seemingly insoluble problem.

But for once, I actually agree with the editors at National Review on something. I too am glad that although the symbolic gesture came yesterday, the more substantive decisions about how to proceed will be made after a full and careful review. But this shouldn't come as a shock; it was the position articulated by the transition team during the interregnum as well. At this point, proceeding blindly with nothing but our ideals could lead to catastrophe, but if people in our custody hadn't been abused in the first place, there wouldn't be any legal crisis.

Simply keeping people at Guantanamo forever--which, from what I can infer, is the preferred mode over at National Review--isn't an option. Something will have to be done to ensure fair trials conducted in a timely fashion, whether they happen in U.S. civilian courts or not.

Last fall, referring to the financial crisis, Barney Frank said that no solution can be more elegant than the problem. And this problem is definitely fucked.

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