President Obama‘s new executive order on the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is producing disappointment from the administration’s liberal supporters and “I-told-you-so” catcalls from its more conservative critics.
Nominal supporters say the resumption of military trials — and the re-affirmation of indefinite detentions for certain prisoners — create what the American Civil Liberties Union calls “a troubling ‘new normal.’ ”
“The detention of Guantanamo detainees for nine years without charge or trial is a stain on America’s reputation that should be ended immediately, not given a stamp of approval,” said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director.
Romero said Gitmo should be shut immediately, and the detainees tried in U.S. federal courts — though the Obama administration‘s plan to try accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others in New York City drew fierce opposition from local residents and lawmakers.
One of those lawmakers is Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who now chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security. He also commended Obama’s new executive order on Gitmo, and, just for good measure, compared it favorably to the policies of one of the Obama team’s least favorite presidents, George W. Bush.
“The bottom line is that it affirms the Bush administration policy that our government has the right to detain dangerous terrorists until the cessation of hostilities,” King said. “This is clearly another step in the right direction.”
For an administration that hates to be compared to its predecessor, the morning brought some frustrating headlines. A Washington Post column says “Obama’s new Gitmo policy is a lot like Bush’s old policy.”
Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, told The New York Times that “this is a step down the road toward institutionalizing a preventive-detention regime. People in the Mideast are looking to establish new rules for their own societies, and this sends a mixed message at best.”
In a statement accompanying the new executive order, Obama said he reserves the right to try terrorist suspects in federal court, and that new rules will “broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees.”
“Going forward, all branches of government have a responsibility to come together to forge a strong and durable approach to defend our nation and the values that define who we are as a nation,’ Obama said.
Obama made the closure of Gitmo a major part of his 2008 campaign pitch, and he suspended military trials there his first week in office.
Yesterday, the president announced the new rules in a written statement.