Obama Disappoints on Detainee Policy

First, some truth in advertising. My brother, Michael Ratner is President of The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). CCR has been in the forefront of the battles to bring legal representation to the detainees in Guantanamo. I have lived this battle, not only by covering it in Washington but also at family events and dinners. I believe in the dignity of all, the rule of law and that the United States should be on the right side of morality. I do not think we have acted in moral ways with our treatment and torture of the detainees. I am now disappointed in President Obama's actions.

Several of the groups concerned with this issue attended a private meeting with President Obama yesterday. CCR's Executive Director Vincent Warren attended and said "I don't see meaningful differences between these detention policies and those erected by President Bush. That is not good news and should concern anyone concerned about the overall impact that detainee treatment has had on world perception of the United States.

The White House says they are still intent on closing Gitmo in a year. However, if they decide on military tribunals that will take place in Gitmo it will be impossible to close the facility within that time period. There simply is not enough time. There have been two trials in seven years, one was a guilty plea and the other one was given time already served. The only way to do it is to have the trials in the United States and the weak-kneed Democrats will never let that happen. The Republicans have them on the run on National Security issues and they have taken the bait and are running scared.

The Obama administration is putting more bells and whistles on military tribunals and the politically terrified Democrats will go right along with the President. These tribunals with the softening rules against using information from torture will still not adhere to evidence we have held so dear for the last 225 years of our country's existence in our courts or even in our court martial trials. They will still allow broader hearsay and also allow for information under coerced circumstances but not torture. That would not stand up in a court of law anywhere in the United States. No matter how much lipstick the President puts on the military tribunals it is not going to pass muster within the world community. It will have the same impact as the trials in Nigeria had. No one in the world believed that the trials were fair. World opinion thought the trials amounted to a kangaroo court and they will think that about the United States and these military tribunals.

We want the world to take the Gitmo detainees but if we won't even have them in the United States for trials in maximum-security prisons then why are we going to expect Europe to receive them? . We created the problem by paying war lords money to turn people over to the US military, and then we ran a public relations campaign about how dangerous they all were. We were trying them in the court of public opinion before real trials. Some of them are terrorists to be sure but many of them were caught in a web and picked up for hard cash.

There are only two reasons that the Obama administration is taking this stance. One is that he is running for reelection and needs to run from the middle since he already has the Democratic nomination, the other concerns bowing to pressure created by the CIA and the Pentagon.

Years ago President Clinton had a press conference the anniversary of November 22nd. The boomer White House Press Corps was rather surprised at the choice of dates and Clinton was asked who he thought killed President Kennedy. Clinton answered " Lee Harvey Oswald". It was a different answer than he gave when asked before he became President.

Those of us who were convinced that there was a conspiracy thought that the President Clinton had bowed to the pressure of the CIA and other government agencies to not create waves or prosecutions even thirty some years later. I think President Obama is feeling that same pressure from the same agencies. It may be pressure but it is not going to convince the rest of the world that this administration is being any fairer than the Bush administration. World opinion will not change and it will only engender more anger and rage at the United States and our citizens putting us in greater danger.