Friday, May 15, 2009


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Obama on Friday resumed -- with expanded legal protections -- the Bush administration's controversial system of military trials for some Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Obama said he supports the idea of the military commissions but opposes the version of the law that had been governing such trials in recent years: the Military Commissions Act put in place under the Bush administration in 2006, but subsequently struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The president said military commissions "are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered." But, he said, the 2006 act "failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined our capability to ensure swift and certain justice against those detainees."
He said he plans to enhance due process rights for detainees held at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in order to improve the widely criticized approach created by his predecessor.

More at CNN. (


How wrong is this? Let us count the ways.

First and foremost these Kangaroo courts are fundamentally contaminated by the use of torture by the U.S. on the detainees. Obama is forced to use the ruse of a Military Court proceeding because no civilian court would deem to hear these cases. The charges would be thrown out of court due to prosecutorial abuse. Given the undisputed facts of the case, the prolonged holding of the suspects without habeas corpus, the refusal of the government for the suspects to know the charges against them, the lack of representation for the accused for large portions of the proceeding, and the total lack of review by Supreme Court of the actual law under which these men are accused the whole process makes a mockery of the rule of law.

The farcical nature of these courts is further illuminated by the fact that they will allow hearsay evidence. Are the President and his Attorney General serious about this? Hearsay evidence has not been allowed into any court of law in the U.S. since the founding. Hearsay has been disallowed in court as a point of common law even longer than that. Now Obama is going to allow the game of telephone to be played out in a supposed court of law? Again , is he serious about this? Is that willing to trash long standing traditions of the rule of law for some will-of-the-wisp? Is he really going to try to unscrew the pooch?

Let’s be clear on what is happening here. People who have sat in a black hole for more than seven years will be subjected to further Kafkaesque persecutions disguised as a legal proceeding held under the color of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Mind you there is an excellent argument that they should never have been subject to military law in the first place. They sure as hell did not sign up to be members of the U.S. military and there is an honest question whether these men were active combatants at the time of capture. Even if they were mujaheddin fighters battling against U.S. forces it still does not give the U.S. the right to hold them indefinitely or to try them under special procedures that may violate the Constitution in particular and do violate the rules of simple human decency in general.

Even if these men are in Bushite terms “the worst of the worst” it does not excuse their rough-shod treatment at Gitmo and Bagram. The accused may be perfect Visigoths, but that does not give us excuse to act like the Mongol Hoards in retaliation.

So why on God’s good green earth is Barack Obama, Constitutional scholar and law school professor countenancing such a violation of basic democratic principles? Because, Obama is a crass, unprincipled, politician. He is at base a compromiser without set of core values.

Read his books or listen to them via audible. Drill down to the heart of his presentation and you will find nothing there. There is nothing more than facile centrism and pointless middle ground seeking. His “post partisanship” has always been a cop-out. It has been a way to offend as few people as possible and fool as many people as possible that he sympathizes with them. It has always been a “word fog” as Taylor Marsh puts it. It is fog that conceals a man with nothing more than a technocratic mind set.

Obama is continuing the farce of the Commissions because George W. Bush put him in an awful bind. Bush set up a lawless, cruel and self-destructive structure that has been short-handed to “Gitmo.” It was and is nothing more than a recreation of the Soviet Gulag by the United States. The whole sorry mess from “extraordinary rendition” to the “black site prisons” was xeroxed from the Soviet and Chinese Communist system of oppression and control. It was a reverse engineering of the Manchurian Candidate system that was part and parcel of the Communist abuses encountered by US servicemembers in Korea and in Vietnam. Instead of “American Imperialists” being fed into the meat grinder it was Muslim Extremists and Al Qaeda Types. It was the same abuse of human rights right down to the beating to death of people the interrogators knew were innocent of all and any charges.

Now the right thing to do would be to flatly state to the American people “because of the rampant lawlessness of the previous administration there is no legal way to prosecute any of the Gitmo detainees no matter how justly deserving of punishment they may be. I am forced by the Constitution and the founding principle of the rule of law to release all the detainees as soon as practicable.” Of course such a course of action would cause every Republican head in the United States to explode. Then because the Republicans would raise the roof, most Democrats would cave into pressure exerted by the Elephants. The ether would be awash in charges of Democrats being “soft on terror” or “coddling terrorists” or Democrats being “cowards” and “surrender monkeys.” Democrats would be more than willing to prove how spineless they are by refusing to stand up against Republican outrage. Obama would be totally without a friend in Washington, it is coin flip if Bo would remain loyal to him.

Thus doing the right thing is political non-starter. Obama will take the coward’s way out. He will slink behind a politically popular and beltway safe “compromise. He will get kudos for following the beltway's conventional wisdom. He will tinker around the edges of policy and call it change, just like he has done since the beginning. Obama only moves boldly when it is easy to be bold. Lilly Ledbetter was a slam dunk; SCHIP even more so. “Reviewing” Gitmo really took no skin off of anyone’s nose. Actually making a stark rejection of Bush’s illegal, immoral and cruel detainee policy—that would piss off some very powerful beltway players and Obama is all about keeping everyone happy, everyone other than the Progressive base.

The real question now is, what is the Progressive base going to do about this? Obama has already sold out to the Wall Street bankers with the massive transfer of wealth that is the bank bail out program. The top one tenth of one percent will get a massive infusion of money from the rest of the 99.9%. It will be the exact opposite of what happened under the New Deal and a continuation of the Democratic Party’s capitulation to the corporatist elites. Economically Obama is a disciple of the Chicago School and is as doctrinaire a free market believer as Alan Greenspan ever was. He is definitely no friend of the blue collar worker and has done squat for the real victims of Wall Street’s casino mentality. Will the progressive wing of the party give yet another pass to Barak Obama or will it finally stand for something?

The biggest complaint Progressives had against the Republican Party was its lock-step adherence to Bush’s policy. Even when there was the odd protest against King George from conservative principle it never transformed itself into a vote against W.’s legislative agenda. You had the spectacle of Republicans arguing against the broad increase in executive power that the Military Commissions Act represented who then turned right around and voted for that very same bill. The good limited government types in the Elephant Party abandoned their birthright to the Progressive Democrats.

Now the shoe is definitely on the other foot and it is now up to the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party to stand clearly for the Civil Rights and the Rule of Law it holds so dear. Do the Grass Roots; DFA, Move On, etc. have the courage of their convictions and the honor to oppose Obama’s slide into political convenience? Will the Progressives let him once again take the easy “compromise” that the beltway thinks is pragmatic or will the left once and for all stop being afraid of its own values and its own strength? Will the left for once drop foolish identity politics and stand for the overarching values that bind all forward thinking people of good faith or will it trade its birthright for a pot of beans? Will it surrender its belief in justice and fair play for mumbled promises of Health Care reform or for energy policy reform, or for a lesbian on the Supreme Court or just the fear that it can not oppose the first African American President lest it be seen as racist?

The sooner the Progressive and other Democrats see Obama for what he truly is, just a smart and savvy politician who was able to ride a wave of revulsion and populist anger into office the better it will be for all concerned.

Shelby Steel, curse his conservative soul, was partially correct about Obama. Obama is a bound man, a conciliator, a Black man that White America can feel comfortable with. A major part of his candidacy was the facile promise that his election would magically correct the long troubled history of Race in America; that we could somehow easily put behind us the cruel legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. This was a large part of the “transformative” myth of Barack Obama. In his gene pool and in his life story there is the myth of a man who bridges the divide between black and white, who is the best part of us—African soul and flinty Kansas values leavened with the Aloha spirit and seasoned with Chicago grit. Obama marketed himself as the embodiment of change, as the anti-Bush and the anti-Hillary, as not the same-old,same old. It was bullpucky.

Obama was and is just another Centrist Democrat who must be constantly badgered by the Progressive Movement to do anything closely approximating the right thing to do. He is just another Bill Clinton, an amoral huckster and policy wonk with no philosophical core; just another deeply damaged soul attempting to achieve personal affirmation via high office. Obama rubbed Bill Clinton in the wrong way because Obama was Bill Clinton only more so and in Black Face. It infuriated Bill Clinton that someone could use his moves and improve on them.

In another place and another time Obama’s instinct for compromise and his willingness to go the extra mile to reach a consensus would be laudable. This is not that time. Obama’s failure is not to understand that sometimes the consensus of the best and brightest leads to disaster. His failure is to not understand that some things can not be compromised, that certain principles are inviolate, certain truths are self evident and not up for negotiation. Since Obama is unaware of these salient facts it is up to the Progressive Movement to remind him of those basic truths. Is the movement up to the challenge or is it going to reduce itself to mindless cheer leading and finally become the Obama-bots the right accuses it of being? The betrayal of Progressive Core values by Obama is manifest, does Progressive Movement cave into political “reality” and gamesmanship or does it finally stand up for what believes in?
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