In an undoubtedly disappointing and, some would say, shocking move President Obama has decided to revive the Guantanamo Trials of alleged terrorists. However, President Obama did indicate that the legal rights of those facing the military commissions would be improved. He did not specify the nature of those improvements.
On January 22 of this year Obama had ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as well as overseas CIA detention centers for terror suspects. Obama declared that he was, by signing the orders, resurrecting “our [American] values and our ideals”. Immediately thereafter, military judges that headed the commissions suspended numerous pending trials. Obama then proudly proclaimed that “Guantanamo prison will be closed no later than one year from now”.
In 2002 the American Bar Association issued this statement regarding the decisions of the Bush Administration: "In response to the unprecedented attacks of September 11, on November 13, 2001, the President announced that certain non-citizens (of the USA) would be subject to detention and trial by military authorities. The order provides that non-citizens whom the President deems to be, or to have been, members of the al Qaeda organization or to have engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit acts of international terrorism that have caused, threaten to cause, or have as their aim to cause, injury to or adverse effects on the United States or its citizens, or to have knowingly harbored such individuals, are subject to detention by military authorities and trial before a military commission.” The American Bar Association made the reasonable assumption that the trials would be governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They were wrong. In these ‘special’ trials the defendants are not allowed access to all the evidence against them. The judges are entitled and, are most likely expected, to rely on evidence obtained by coercive means (i.e. torture). The defendants are not allowed to choose their attorneys and the proceedings are usually closed. There are probably many other rights that are denied but it is probably a state secret. I am guessing if we want to know what it is like to experience a trial of this sort we can ask Roxana Saberi (the recently released American journalist who had been tried and convicted in a closed trial in Iran) after she is finished resting in Vienna.
Human rights organizations and liberal minded people the world over are no doubt gravely disappointed by Obama’s reversal and apparent validation of Bush Administration policy. However, pragmatic minded people the world over are no doubt recognizing Obama’s wonderful gift for being pragmatic. Obama does seem keenly talented at taking lemons and turning them into lemonade or, at least, a non-sour but not quite sweet tasting liquid. He has taken an inherited reality and has attempted to confront reality with his own Obamaesque spin. Obama is a man of hope. All hail, Obama the Optimist! But realists the world over must wonder, at what point does an optimist experience the same cognitive distortions and feeble grasp on reality as a pessimist.
But from my, albeit limited, perspective Obama is not an optimist, a pragmatist, a pessimist or even a realist (the philosophically critical differentiate pragmatism from realism). Obama is a victim of politics. Scratch that. Obama has willingly entered into the political arena and is therefore a participatory gladiator who gouges trolls (Kim Jon Il) and beasts (President Ahmadinejad) and evades clowns (Prime Minister Berlusconi). In short, Obama is a politician. Ouch! But what else can you call a man who soothes domestic partisan fever (Was that Rush Limbaugh at a recent White House dinner?), plays footsy with corporate giants (like the AIG bonus scandal was a surprise!), waltzes with Europe (although to be fair he did dodge Carla Bruni), kisses the Catholic and uncomfortably socialist feet of Latin America (I think Hugo Chavez was salivating) and makes green promises to tree huggers? What is interesting is that Obama still seems convinced that he will part the Red Sea.
Two of the best TV shows in the world was Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, which were pure BBC gold. The verbal gymnastics and political commentary was so brilliant I thought Twain, Dostoyevsky and Heller were writing the scripts. The first episode of Yes, Prime Minister was called The Grand Design. Hacker, the new PM, visited the Ministry of Defense as soon as he came to office. Hacker is astonished by ‘nuclear’ politics and the Trident missile situation that he decides to make a difference. Yes, that is right. He decides to be a politician that cares. He wants to bring hope to Britain and, in one fell swoop, cure problems with defense, unemployment and education. If Bush had been involved it would have been called the Leave No Britain Behind Bill. Sir Humphrey, played by a deliciously ambiguous Nigel Hawthorne, convinces Hacker that any action addressing a matter of national concern would be ill advised as the PM may not be able to attain the PR coup de grace he was hoping for. Hacker grumbles and then exclaims he is hungry. Sir Humphrey, an impeccable civil servant, suggests that Hacker could make his mark on history by obtaining a government paid cook for 10 Downing Street! What an excellent idea. After all, the PM was hungry and to prevent future PM’s from being hungry seems kind and humanistic.
Oh, if only Obama could create one new job maybe I could justify sticking my head in the sand and ignoring the Guantanamo trials. Of course, Obama did secure a White House vegetable garden. The garden ensures that no future president will suffer from malnutrition. A baby step on the path to marking history.