Obama as 'Bush Lite'

How Obama compares to Bush on national security policies
By John Frary | Feb 03, 2010

One of Barack Obama's very first acts as president was to announce the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison. The first anniversary of this announcement has come and gone. It remains open. The date of its final termination remains elusive. The State of he Union address made no reference to it. Some began to doubt it ever will be closed.

Some other questions have been resolved. A wide range of policies instituted under George W. Bush — indefinite detention without charges, trials by military commission, the use of military force against suspected terrorists in foreign countries, secrecy privileges that undermine litigation against government officials responsible for terrorism policies, profiling on the basis of nationality and many others — remain operative.

A liberal commentator, Glenn Greenwald, drew the appropriate conclusions on Salon (Nov.28): "I could understand and accept a lot more easily this blithe acquiescence to Obama's record if it weren't for the fact that progressives and Democrats spent so many years screaming bloody murder over Bush's use of indefinite detention, military commissions, state secrets, renditions and extreme secrecy — policies Obama has largely and/or completely adopted as his own. One can't help but wonder ... how genuine those objections were, as opposed to their just having been effective tools to discredit a Republican president for partisan and political gain."

So far the most significant departure from the Bush policies has been the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a criminal trial in New York City. This decision is simply bizarre. The liberal Washington Post columnist David Ignatius expressed the reaction of many from the start: "Although the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York apparently was Eric Holder's, it strikes me that it really is a mistake. I mean, there are too many bad things that could happen. There is no reason to have to have done this."

Senators Joe Lieberman (Ind-Conn.) , Jim Webb (D-Va.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explain some of bad things that could happen in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder "We and many others have already expressed serious concerns about whether a trial in civilian court might compromise classified evidence, including revealing sources and methods used by our intelligence community. We are also very concerned that, by bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorists responsible for 9/11 to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, only blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood, you will be providing them one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism. Such a trial would almost certainly become a recruitment and radicalization tool for those who wish us harm."

Gov. David Patterson of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York  City, the New York City police commissioner, and Sen. Charles Schumer, joined by eight elected officials in Manhattan, have protested the NYC venue and on Jan. 28 the Department of Justice announced its decision to find another location. [Editor's note: While the Justice Department has been ordered to consider other locations for the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, as of Feb. 2, no final decision had yet been made on where to hold the trials.]

This leaves the legal consequences of holding criminal trials on U.S. soil unresolved. The ACLU objects to moving Gitmo detainees to Illinois. An ACLU press release (media@aclu.org) condemns the plan as a continuation of Bush's "lawless policies."

I quote the tastiest sentences: "It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration. ... Military commissions ... are no more acceptable in Illinois or any other U.S. state than in Guantánamo. ... The proceedings will achieve neither reliable justice nor a restoration of America's credibility around the world."

Pointless to list all the many "bad things" that can happen. Events will determine that list over the course of a long, long trial. All we can say at present is that the KSM trial may yet prove to be a classic demonstration of Murphy's Law in action.

Professor John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia. He can be reached at: jfrary8070@aol.com

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