Who’s Lying About Indefinite Detention Story?

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A bombshell story broke today about the Obama administration drafting an executive order that could be used to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely.

First, here’s the story…

Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

After months of internal debate over how to close the military facility in Cuba, White House officials are increasingly worried that reaching quick agreement with Congress on a new detention system may be impossible. Several officials said there is concern in the White House that the administration may not be able to close the prison by the president’s January deadline.

But the administration denied the report and the Washington Post has since revised it…

An administration official told AFP that no such draft order existed, though internal deliberations were taking place on how to deal with those inmates who could not be released or tried in civilian courts.

The source said that a task force established by the president was not due to present its recommendations until July, and that the administration would then work with Congress to find a solution to the conundrum.

The official was reacting to a report by The Washington Post that said the Obama administration “has drafted an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely.”

The newspaper later revised its report to say the administration “is drafting” the executive order, among other changes.

So, seriously, who’s lying?

Listen, I have no doubt that people have at least discussed the idea of keeping indefinite detention on the table because that’s just debate. But that’s a lot different than drafting an executive order. Did Wash Post jump the gun on this one or is the Obama administration actually considering indefinite detention as an option?

Also, after the last 8 years, how is indefinite detention a sticky subject in Congress? I thought it had been long since established that Americans didn’t approve of this practice. Did I miss something in the past 6 months?

  • http://thepurplecenter.blogspot.com/ John Burke

    I don’t think anyone is “lying” and yes, you missed something. What you missed is that Obama has been clear (even if you have to wade through rhetorical flourishes to be sure what he said) that some detainees who are too dangerous to release and cannot be tried in federal courts might be: (1) tried before military tribunals after all (which is why last month Obama reinstituted the military commissions with some changes); or (2) held some other way indefinitely.

    Obama has hoped to get Congress to work with him on some changes in the tribunals and/or the means to detain some of these guys on US soil so as to close Gitmo by January. However, Congress seems unified across party lines that the latter ain’t gonna happen with members voting to enable it.

    Thus, Obama “is drafting” an exec order to “reassert Presidential authority” to do it anyway. The White House objection to the original WaPo story was more in the way of an adjustment to avoid annoying Congress too much. The story plainly was a manufactured leak from either the WH or DOJ.

    Justin: Be clear, Obama may yet close Gitmo on schedule but neither he nor any other President is going to release dangerous al Qaeda guys on his own. Not now, not later, not ever. Of course, if courts order him to release one or another detainee, he probably will (after exhausting every judicial remedy, just like Bush). And he’d prefer that Congress make it easier for him to hold and try them. Still, no President is going to release those of these guys who he knows to be truly dangerous.

  • Lit3Bolt

    It would be great if we actually could independently verify which of the prisoners were actually dangerous. However, we are probably holding many more than is really necessary, mainly because holding them forever is the only way to avoid the fallout of releasing them (if they weren’t terrorists before, they certainly will be upon release). And the uniform torture they have received has made trials pointless anyway. I’m not sure what the double standard is here, because the US has done such things with prisoners in the past, but perhaps the torture issue ensured extra scrutiny from the press (and the sheer incompetence of the Bush Administration). I wonder if the weak justifications the gov’t offered up back then were just swallowed up whole by the MSM or no one simply cared if we were assassinating/abusing drug lords and communists.

  • Stephen Voss

    The man has boxed himself into a corner. You can sum up his difficulty in 3 simple points.

    1. He cares about the rule of law. On May 21, standing in front of the Constitution, he said so. He’s a constitutional lawyer and he ought to understand what that means..

    2. The law is entirely – 100% – a matter of punishing people who have committed crimes in the past. The only direction the law ever looks is back into the past. It never looks ahead to punish you for what you may do in the future. To take up the rule of law is precisely to turn your face to the past. This is plain fact, beyond dispute or debate.

    3. But this man would like to look forward into the future, not back into the past. Instead of punishing Bushies for crimes they commited in the past, he wants to punish other people for crimes they may commit in the future. He’ll need to punish them without a trial, since a court of law knows nothing about trying people for what they may do in the future.

    You can either abide by the rule of law or evade both law and Constitution and look to the future. You can buy either 1 or 3. But in the light of 2, you can’t buy them both. If you care about the rule of law, you need to give up 3. If you want to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, that’s your only option.

    When he stood before the Constitution that day he acknowledged his oath of office. And then he told us, “my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe.” More important, it increasingly appears, than preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution.

    The man needs our help, even more than he did during the election.