As Barack Obama’s presidency continues in the United States, it’s safe to say that a pattern is now emerging that reveals his true tradition. He is a politician, lest we forget, and his loyalties lie with nationalist and capitalist interests. That he should act accordingly should not surprise us. That he should make campaign promises to secure election and consequently turn from those should also not surprise us.
And so it also should not surprise us that Obama would turn his Change Chariot right back around in the direction previously traveled by one George W. Bush.
We have experienced a lot in the last few days, with a decision to try to block the release of photos showing prisoner abuse and another decision to avoid pursuit of the Bush era officials who may have sanctioned torture. Obama’s explanations are cluttered and mystifying, far from the straight-ahead platform of change he ran on.
The latest volte-face finds Obama restoring military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay and sending a very clear message that the architecture of his predecessor is good enough for him.
The Obama Administration seems to have itself fixated on moving forward, pressing the public to hurriedly move beyond the appalling torture of the Bush years and into a new, sunlit future. But if Barack Obama is adopting many of the same policies from the Bush Doctrine, how can the public be expected to see change on the horizon?
As a candidate, Obama criticized the military trials of the Bush Administration and claimed a desire to restore the rule of law and dignity to the United States on the global stage. Shortly after taking office in January, the president announced that he would close up shop at Gitmo within a year. He also suspended the military trials there, establishing a task force to deal with the detainees and the legal process mess.
But now, Obama is heading back in Bush's direction and reopening the military commissions he halted in January. The rub is that the Obama Administration is introducing a “new” way to approach these commissions that will include extra “safeguards.” The "safeguards" include bans on evidence obtained by harsh interrogation and restrictions on hearsay evidence.
"He (Obama) is taking a gravely, truly flawed system, tinkering at the edges and hoping that the world is somehow going to see this as legitimate, as open, as fair – it's not going to happen," said Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve, which represents a number of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Indeed, Obama’s insistence on toying with broken Bush policies is treacherous. By attempting to refashion the commissions that he dubbed an “enormous failure” in his campaign, Barack Obama is fundamentally trying to put lipstick on a pig. His reapplication of the military commissions, with or without new amendments, sends the wrong message to the global community.
The right message is clear: Obama must throw out the military commission architecture lock, stock and barrel and ditch the stain left by the Bush policies.
"It's disappointing that Obama is seeking to revive rather than end this failed experiment. There is no detainee at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and shouldn't be tried in the regular federal courts system. This is perpetuating the Bush administration's misguided detention policy," said Jonathan Hafetz, a national security attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
President Barack Obama hopes to reopen the military commissions, complete with “new rules,” within 90 days.