Bowing to reality, President Obama has officially reneged on a campaign promise to his base, reversing a previous decision on detainees at Guantanamo Bay that will keep the prison camp for terrorists open indefinitely. It made the front page of Tuesday’s Washington Post but was buried near the back of the New York Times that day, on page 19: “Obama, in Reversal, Clears Way for Guantanamo Trials to Resume.”
Reporters Scott Shane and Mark Landler rounded up some suspiciously sympathetic quotes from left-wing figures, or as the Times calls them, “civil rights advocates," either cutting Obama some slack or even finding bright spots in the decision.
President Obama on Monday reversed his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, permitting military trials to resume with revamped procedures but implicitly admitting the failure of his pledge to close the prison camp.
Mr. Obama said in a statement that he remained committed to closing Guantánamo someday and to charging some terrorism suspects in civilian criminal courts. But Congress has blocked the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo to the United States for trial, frustrating the administration’s plan to hold civilian trials for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed chief plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, and others accused of terrorism.
Civil liberties advocates, who have long been critical of Guantánamo, expressed disappointment that the military system remained in place more than two years after Mr. Obama took office.
“This is a step down the road toward institutionalizing a preventive-detention regime,” said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First. “People in the Mideast are looking to establish new rules for their own societies, and this sends a mixed message at best.”
Still, some lawyers for detainees said the executive order might speed the release of men imprisoned for years without trial, either after a review, a trial or a plea agreement.
“If this leads to a meaningful process and a conclusion that a person should be released, that would be an improvement,” said Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern who has represented Guantánamo prisoners and written a book on the detention camp.
Mr. Obama had suggested that he might go to Congress for a law governing indefinite detention. Human rights groups were relieved that he instead issued an executive order, which is easier to undo in the future. They were also pleased that Mr. Obama limited his order to 172 prisoners currently held at Guantánamo rather than extending it to any future detainees.
Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University, said she was pleased that the executive order left open the possibility that prisoners might be transferred to the United States at some point and that the review panels would include representatives from the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security as well as Defense and the director of national intelligence.
It’s not the first time Shane has come to Obama’s defense on the front page over his mishandling of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. His October 4, 2009 story opened with an excuse: “To understand how hard it is proving for President Obama to close the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, consider the case of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, Internee Security No. 692. His long-delayed departure last week leaves 97 Yemenis at the complex in Cuba, by far the largest remaining group.”
By contrast, Washington Post’s liberal writer Dana Milbank was not mollified, writing under the headline, “Obama’s new Gitmo policy is a lot like Bush’s old policy.”