President Obama’s tenuous claim to the antiwar community was already unraveling long before he formally took office. Shortly after the election his national security team’s extremely hawkish makeup was drawing concern. Two days after his inauguration, he had backed off his campaign promise to have all US troops out of Iraq in 16 months. Still, his supporters could find some measure of solace in his halting of the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay and his promises of a more transparent administration.
Or at least they used to be able to. In the past 48 hours the administration has backed off of the few scraps of significant policy revisions thrown to an electorate hungry for his campaign’s mantra of change. First, he overruled the Pentagon’s decision that undisclosed photos of detainee abuse could be released. Perplexingly, he insisted that the photos did not contain anything “particularly sensational,” before cautioning that making them public would imperil the troops and inflame anti-American opinion.
It was less than 48 hours later that the president confirmed that he was going to resume the military tribunals against detainees at Guantanamo Bay. He had previously ordered such tribunals halted when pledging to close the facility. Now instead of the rule of law, the administration is offering a modest selection of new “rights” detainees will enjoy, none of them particularly earth-shattering.
Even the pledge to close the detention center has become something of a hollow victory, amid reports that the administration is floating to Congress the idea of holding many of the detainees on American soil indefinitely and without trial. This legal sleight of hand would be accomplished through the creation of National Security Courts, which would be empowered to try detainees without the legal rights enjoyed in US criminal courts. The new courts would also provide an aegis for holding the detainees without trial while still appearing to have some measure of legal oversight on their captivity.
At the end of the day the only group really satisfied with President Obama’s new policies are the hawkish wing of the Republican Party. And why shouldn’t they? After all they supported them when President Bush introduced the notion of keeping people imprisoned without charging them with a crime, and was the architect of much of the secrecy-obsessed culture President Obama was so quick to dismiss on taking office, and is now so quick to embrace. For human rights groups, antiwar factions and even much of his own party’s base, the disappointment is becoming palpable.