Thursday, May 21, 2009

A lefty blogger eyes the Gitmo flip-floppery 

From his perch at the Atlantic, moderately lefty blogger Marc Ambinder trains the scalpel of his mind on Barack Obama's various positions on Gitmo and exposes two items which explain much of the difference in thinking between left and right on this subject. First, on the matter of the evidence that might be required to try the detainees (bold emphasis added):

Already, the facts on the ground have forced Obama to change his assumptions about how the detainees will be tried. It had been the hope of administration legal advisers that a majority of the 240 - perhaps a large majority - would be tried in federal courts. Then they discovered that the evidentiary thresholds for doing so were too high given the quality of information the Bush government had collected about the detainees, and they subsequently concluded that Article III trials wouldn't be as swift as an option that they wanted to reserve for only a couple dozen high-value detainees: the military commissions.

The bolded language is about as mushy as it gets. First, the "quality of information" about the detainees is irrelevant, at least in this discussion. Rather, the question is the quality of evidence, an entirely different thing, as anybody who has ever watched an episode of CSI -- original or "Miami" will do -- knows. There is lots of "information" in the world, but very little admissible evidence, a distinction essential to many politicians and to all courts. The difference is also at the heart of the argument over whether jihadis detained on the battlefield by soldiers ought to be treated as illegal combatants or as criminals. One needs evidence (as opposed to mere information) to detain the latter, but not the former. I would have thought that at least that much was clear by now, even to a lefty blogger.

Second, the "Bush government" was not on the battlefield when these people were rounded up, American soldiers were. Soldiers are not trained, ordered, or even gently encouraged to gather evidence, and if they should happen to come into possession of some their own institution lacks the procedures to maintain a chain of custody suitable to admit that evidence in a United States criminal trial. Yes, we all understand that the left has figured out that bashing "the Bush government" is a lot more popular among the boobery than attacking soldiers and intelligence operatives, but you look like an idiot if you push that thinking to its limit. It is not unlike complaining that "the Bush government" misdelivered that important letter informing me that I had won the lottery.

Third, does Mr. Ambinder really think that the Obama people suddenly "discovered" that there was insufficient evidence to try these guys? Seriously? Because defenders of the Gitmo policy were making that point for years. Ambinder's report of Obama's new discovery means that the assumption on the left, and apparently inside the Obama team, could only have been that the White House and Pentagon were lying about the "quality of information" all along. You have to wonder what other supposed Bush administration "lies" will suddenly be "discovered" to be, well, truths.

Then there is this laugh-if-don't-cry jaw-dropper:
The plain truth is that the administration fully expects to hold a number of detainees in indefinite custody within the United States. (Ironically, had Guantanamo not become a lightning rod for the world, it might have been the perfect place to build long-term detention facilities.)

Er, Mark, how did Guantanamo "become a lightening rod for the world"? Am I the only one who believes that if the American left, including its foot soldiers in the media, had stood shoulder to shoulder with the "Bush government" in defense of Gitmo that it would have been different? If Jimmy Carter and Al Gore had flown around the world making the now apparently obvious case for Gitmo instead of attacking it in front of foreign audiences is there at least a chance that Gitmo would not have become a "lightening rod for the world"? The idea is laughable, you say? Of course, because the plain truth, obvious to anybody who lives in a college town, is that the American left simply and instinctively hates the disapproval of foreigners, whether putative victims on the "Arab street" or European intellectuals, and will turn on just about any American institution if it will restore their approbation.


By Anonymous JTHM, at Thu May 21, 08:32:00 AM:

Don't forget the loveable Little-Dick Durban equating the treatment (wrongly, surprise!) of the Gitmo boys to the Nazis or the Stalinists Russians. Yep, that went over real big with the America HATERS like this clown "Mark" obvously is.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 08:58:00 AM:

Applying logic and common sense to a Lefty blog is righteous work, but someone has to do it. You do it really well and concisely. Congratulations. Great read.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Thu May 21, 09:05:00 AM:

"You have to wonder what other supposed Bush administration "lies" will suddenly be "discovered" to be, well, truths.

The lie about WMDs, wasn't.
The plastic turkey, wasn't.

In many issues, great and small, the left made a successful campaign by lying about lies.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 09:41:00 AM:

My only quibble with your outstanding post is that I wish you would hit the media harder. If these clowns had considered for even one minute the good of the country in their criticism of Gitmo, they would have tempered their hysteria,

Obama is frequently criticized for being in perpetual campaign mode, but what about these MSM'ers? Marc Ambinder is just one example but many prominent media types just cannot seem to move on from their hyperbolic BDM. Get over it Marc.  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Thu May 21, 09:48:00 AM:

It is not just the quality of evidence, it’s the quality of “Releasable” evidence. How much cooperation would we get from Iraqis/Afghans if they knew that the friends of the man they just turned in as a murderer would know their names. How many of us would have the nerve in the US to turn in a cold-blooded killer, if we knew he had associates who would kill our families, our friends, and everybody you knew, just to get even.

The Iraqis/Afghans take extraordinary risks in cooperating with us. Paying them back in this way would be a betrayal worthy of the devil himself. I would not be deeply saddened if the cleaning out of Gitmo involved short military tribunals and a certain number of executions.

They say only Nixon can go to China. Only Obama could execute terrorists. But he will not.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 10:31:00 AM:

I do believe Gitmo received most of its bad press and poor reputation from the American Left. Arabs and Europeans simply reacted to what was being said in US Media.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 11:29:00 AM:

Gitmo is irritating to the left, but Cheney absolutely drives them nuts. Today, two interesting new things: CNN has a poll out saying Cheney's approval numbers are up, which will put Marc Ambinder, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Exra Klein et al into a frenzy, and Cheney is making a speech attacking Obama on national defense. It's interesting that Cheney has discovered so much political traction out of defense, when I would have thought spending would be the issue that could gain more support. There's is a saying in baseball, "hit the pitch he throws you", and I think in this instance Cheney is playing good politics in going after the loose rhetoric the administration has thrown around on terrorism, interrogations, detention and defense because he thinks that's the easiest pitch to hit. The economy will eventually be Obama's downfall, but these attacks prepare the political ground for bigger hits when public support for Obama's policies inevitably declines in the future.

It's odd that a worn out old man with an unpredictable ticker is the GOP's most adept politician right now.

"The administration has found that it’s easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo. But it’s tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America’s national security. Keep in mind that these are hardened terrorists picked up overseas since 9/11. The ones that were considered low-risk were released a long time ago. And among these, it turns out that many were treated too leniently, because they cut a straight path back to their prior line of work and have conducted murderous attacks in the Middle East. I think the President will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 11:52:00 AM:

I'm confused. Couldn't Obama have invoked executive privilege to not turn over the old legal memos on waterboarding to Feinstein's committee ... or was that planned for -- so Feinstein gets her show trial over torture. Feinstein and Obama look good -- Pelosi is now out of favor with the left.

Obama wants to close Gitmo to fulfill a campaign promise -- its symbolic. There has to be an easier way to deal with the remaining detainees than bringing them to the US and giving them defense counsel.

Obama also gets Cheney airtime -- many will now say that Cheney's speech today confirms that he was running things all along -- not Bush.

We didn't need this debate -- it's not helpful. It's a big distraction from real problems at hand ... or is that part of the plan.

Question -- why "torture" real targets of interest -- can't we pump them full of truth serum.

Link, over  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 12:01:00 PM:

Cheney just ripped Obama a new chute.  

By Anonymous Morgan, at Thu May 21, 12:26:00 PM:

THANK YOU Tigerhawk for pointing out, or reminding your readers, what the real problem is with closing Guantanamo. Cable News and MSM commentary have all been about the safety of hosting terrorists in domestic high security prisons, but that's not the issue. Even Harry Reid couldn't articulate the reasons.

The issue is that we can't imprison somebody domestically without a civil trial, with evidence including means and methods, with discovery motions by the defendants, AND WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF ACQUITTAL. And as TH points out, our military doesn't collect court room evidence on the battelefield.

Moving the detainees to the US will entail a significant risk of acquittal and then release. And if their home or third countries won't take the acquitted detainees, they go into the general US population.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 01:03:00 PM:

The real problem here is Obama -- there's no good reason to be bringing this up now ... and in this manner. We need a leader, instead we have a radical community organizer.

Obama wants to give Cheney airtime, take Pelosi down a peg, and tell the world how great he is because he doesn't torture. As if we don't have enough to deal with.

p.s. Cheney is insane, but that's old news  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Thu May 21, 01:25:00 PM:

A good rule to follow: "Don't implement solutions. Prevent problems."

Unfortunately, the U.S. government is seldom very good at doing that.

P.S. Excellent post, TH.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 02:04:00 PM:

Obama is his own worst enemy -- and maybe the only effective one. Arrogance will be his downfall. I'd bet that other than Axelrod and Rahm -- on then only on a good day -- he doesn't really listen to anyone.

He's about to get into a fight with many of the Democrats in Congress over closing Gitmo -- a fight he picked. Yesterday dumb me thought he wanted to have the funding voted down, so he could say he tried to keep his campaign promise -- and move on.

To my ears, Obama's speech today was very professorial, too lofty and too out of touch. Obama's getting very tiresome. Cheney's nuts, but he sounded earnest and even sincere.

A boycott of GM-Chrysler -- instead buying Ford -- would be a very effective way to blow up Obama's plans -- and soon. He'll become petty and shrill in response -- and be exposed when he tries to force us to do things his way.

Not all of us are a community that wants to be organized. Obama's methods presuppose that we have seething resentments that he -- our leader -- needs to channel ... to further his ends ... for our ultimate good. Instead, most of us just want to get on with our own lives.

Link, over  

By Anonymous WLindsayWheeler, at Thu May 21, 03:10:00 PM:

There are two groups of detainees; those who engineered and planned terrorist attacks on the US and those who are Taliban or Al Queda and fought in Afghanistan.

Crime only exists where there is sovereignty. The legal dictum is "Nulla crimen, sine leige". Without the Lord (Or sovereignty) there is no crime.

Terrorists who committed crimes on US soil have to go to trial in US courts.

Taliban and other fighters that were captured in Afghanistan or Iraq are in a sense POWs, enemy combatants and should be kept on a Military Base and at some point repatriated back to Afghanistan where they were picked up. These people have no business in US Courts.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 05:00:00 PM:

Obama already has the authority, at any time, to order the military to move these people into the US and confine them on a military base.

That is what being Commander-In-Chief means.

So all this nonsense about a special prison and the approval of Congress is utter crap designed for public consumption.

Fortunately many people can still smell and identify crap.

But if you can't:

"The sole purpose of getting these people into the US is to bring their cases into US courts."

Once in federal court they must be released since the nuances of constitutional law were certainly not observed during their capture.

And a trial might also reveal military and intelligence secrets - some the NYT hasn't printed yet.

But release cannot be sold to the public. So the public must be misled.

And the misleading is now in operation. And being done as the magicians do tricks. Keep adding complications, make odd moves that bewilder, and suddenly the trick is completed but no one can say quite how.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 05:54:00 PM:

To pacify the lefty loons, our Attorney General (the one who is good at getting pardons, if anyone needs one and can pay up for the service) is following up on Obama's lecture to the nation today, and he has quickly ginned up a terrorist to be transported back to the United States and put on trial.

Sickeningly, he thinks he is bringing the guy to New York. Are you frigging kidding me? New York? haven't we had enough terrorists? Why not LA? They love these guys!  

By Anonymous Squealer, at Thu May 21, 08:31:00 PM:

Fear is obviously corrosive to reason. Your errors:

First, the argument is not over whether jihadis should be treated as illegal combatants or criminals, but whether they should be treated as illegal combatants or prisoners of war. They are obviously not criminals, and I have pointed this false dichotomy out to you before.

Second, you say one does not need proper evidence to detain illegal combatants, and I would agree. The problem is the US military is going far beyond any reasonable definition of detain, which clearly does not mean to torture and imprison indefinitely without habeus corpus.

Third, many of these combatants were captured, tortured, and removed from the battlefield arena by intelligence agents, not run-of-the-mill American soldiers. Surely, these agents should be able to produce some kind of tangible evidence showing why these terrorists were worth capturing, and that evidence should obviously not consist of the prisoner's own confessions made while under torture.

Fourth, all of this evidence has been classified, and it is entirely reasonable the Obama administration was not able to judge its quality until they actually had access to it.

Fifth, Guantanamo became a lightning rod only because torture and permanent imprisonment without habeus corpus were practiced there in an intentionally lawless zone. What the American left did was irrelevant, and the world audience is perfectly capable of drawing its own conclusions about what is occurring there.  

By Blogger Kinuachdrach, at Thu May 21, 09:12:00 PM:

"Fifth, Guantanamo became a lightning rod only because torture and permanent imprisonment without habeus corpus were practiced there in an intentionally lawless zone."

Squealer, your premise is indefensible -- interrogation is not torture. Sawing people's heads off and putting the video on the internet, now that's torture - of both the victim & everyone else.

If you leftie extremists are ever to gain any credibility, you need to be seen to be doing something about stopping genuine Islamist torture. And not getting an empty UN declaration -- actually stopping it from happening.

Until then, you sound like just another empty-headed shill for Obama.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu May 21, 10:52:00 PM:

Squealer, I have responses to all your points, but I am about six glasses of wine in the bag and therefore not at the top of my game. This bit, though, makes no sense: "The problem is the US military is going far beyond any reasonable definition of detain, which clearly does not mean to torture and imprison indefinitely without habeus corpus."

There is nothing indefinite about this detention. It will continue until the end of the jihadi war. There is nothing to prevent al Qaeda central command, including bin Laden if he is alive, from surrendering and ordering (or at least advising) all their followers around the world to lay down their arms and cease hostilities toward the United States. That, I think, would be a plausible moment to declare the war over and release enemy combatants, lawful or otherwise. That decision is within the power of the enemy at any time. Until that happens or al Qaeda is otherwise rounded up in all its various refuges, why should we regard the war as over? Frankly, I do not think this war is any more "indefinite" than World War II was. It extended from 1931 (Japan's invasion of Manchuria) until 1945, and it might well have gone much beyond that if history had taken a different turn at various points (those being Midway, El Alamein, Stalingrad, and Kursk, among others).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 21, 11:31:00 PM:

"Squealer", hmmm. Interesting choice of a pen name.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Fri May 22, 01:14:00 AM:

TH: "Frankly, I do not think this war is any more 'indefinite' than World War II was. It extended from 1931 (Japan's invasion of Manchuria) until 1945..."

And in Russia, most German POWs were held for ten years after the war. Many died in captivity. Of the 90,000 Germans who became POWs at Stalingrad, only 5,000 returned from Russia. Americans on the far left didn't scream much about that.

One of my old Japanese employees -- now dead -- was in the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. He served in Manchuria and surrendered to the Russians at the end of the war. He spent nearly seven years as prisoner in the Soviet Union after the war.

"I was the last man to leave the camp," he told me.

"Why?" I asked.

"I was the only person who knew how to fix the public address system," he explained.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 22, 09:41:00 AM:

Well, your former colleague be better off now since we have all the internets we don't don't need a public address system.

On squeeler; the lefty hair-splitting on the various aspects of detention, hearings and waterboarding amuses me to no end.

The United States has no treaty obligation whatsoever to these combatants. None. We can hold them for as long as we wish without violating any treaty. If squeeler can prove that wrong I encourage him to do so. Going further, there is no statute that Congress has passed instructing the administration to deal with the scum they've picked up around the world. If squeeler and his ilk had any real intention of building a legal process within which these bad boys could be examined, they could do so tomorrow, since they control the entire government, by passing a law instructing the administration on your desires.

What squeeler evidently doesn't realize is that this entire argument is merely political and has no moral or legal dimension at all; it was intended by the Democrats to become a means of dividing centrist voters from the policies of the past administration. Now we learn that the Obama administration in fact does not object to indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals deemed to be threats to American citizens, and this presents a problem of reconcilement since the old, bad past administration policy looks remarkably like the policy of the shiny new group running the country. Hence the hair-splitting efforts.

The administration does in fact want to confine these terrorists, and may need to do so without any sort of trial or even military hearings. It's not by accident that the only detainee turned over to the domestic criminal court system is someone accused of a crime for which the Bush administration has already obtained two convictions in the Southern District of New York, precisely where the government will try the newest guy. No al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, he. Instead it's someone who committed a crime for which the Justice Department has already got an evidentiary record they can rely on and a friendly court to hear the case.

These arguments over stupid stuff tire the public. Overly clever rhetoric with no purpose other than to confuse, like squeeler's, either means the proponent thinks poorly of the audience or, as in the case of squeeler I suspect, is just thoughtless recycling of Democrat election demagoguery. The election is over, and you guys have to lead now. Figure out some solutions and, since you can change them anytime you wish on a whim. just shut the hell up about Bush era policies you don't approve of and give us your own. Obama seems to be going Bush, by contrast.

Sorry for the length.  

By Blogger Pyrus, at Fri May 22, 10:16:00 AM:

Here's an inventory (incomplete I know) of ideas that are being advanced in various combinations by various commenters. Separating them ought to make it easier to discuss them critically and less emotionally.
1. Enhanced interrogation techniques are right/wrong, regardless of whether they work or not.
2. Enhanced interrogation techniques work/fail, regardless of whether they are moral or immoral.
3. The Gitmo detainees should never have been detained to begin with and then we wouldn't have to deal with them now / should be detained and treated as criminals / should be detained and treated as POWs / should be detained and should have a new process for handling them.
4. The Geneva Convention does / does not apply to the Gitmo detainees.
5. The U.S. should /should not abide by the Geneva Convention.
6. The U.S. is / is not at war.
7. Al Qaida can / cannot direct its members' actions including directing them to surrender.

There are probably others but you get the point. Now you can zip through these like a Chinese menu. For example, I pick:
1. They're wrong. That's my personal morality - if you gaze into the abyss long enough, it gazes back.
2. They don't work. McCain says so and I think his credibility's pretty good on this kind of thing.
3. Should have been treated as POWs. Who knows if they're criminal - as TH points out a battlefield is not a crime scene.
4. Yep, it applies coz the detainees are (or ought to be) POWs.
5. I think we should for now. Honoring signed treaties is usually a good idea. If we were at the brink of annihilation then of course not.
6. We're not at war until Congress says we are. (cue distant chirping crickets) And if we *were* at war, we could have POWs and a process for handling them. But that's crazy talk.
7. Al Qaida is not a sovereign state and is not coherent enough to cease aggression in a way that would actually matter. Their "soldiers" would just line up behind the next extremist thug. They're never going to officially surrender or "lay down their arms"; they're going to become more and more irrelevant as their numbers dwindle.
8. Plus I'd like some moo-shoo pork, extra pancakes.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 22, 10:42:00 AM:

Now we have people arguing law should be as they wish it to be so. A "POW" is a legal term, and since you want to take a chinese menu approach to this, then it should be enough to say that you are incorrect- the Guantanamo detainees don't qualify under any recognized legal definition of the term. Just the opposite, thy are just the sort of people for =whom the term was coined, as a means of clearly separating true POW's from the terrorist irregular riff-raff.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 22, 10:53:00 AM:

Last point: If you worry about detainee treatment then press the Democrats who control Congress to define in legislation how they should be treated.

Good luck with that, because the majority of them will come down just as the President has, in favor of the Bush policies that make you uncomfortable. For me, living close to NYC with two friends who died and a daughter working in the city, it's a very easy call: detain the bastards, waterboard them if we need to and act aggressively to protect the country. Just like President Obama seems to think we should do.  

By Blogger Consul-At-Arms, at Fri May 22, 01:38:00 PM:

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms2.blogspot.com/2009/05/re-lefty-blogger-eyes-gitmo-flip.html  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 22, 03:04:00 PM:

Oh, this is rich. I said earlier that Obama was "going Bush" on detainees, but it turns out he's going one step further: indefinite detention without hearing or trial. Bush wanted to give military commission trials to the terrorists, at least. In another step beyond where Bush was willing to go, Obama is thinking about indefinite detention for those terrorists who were acquitted in civilian courts. Why even try them then?

Oh how will the hypocrites on the left who've been demagoging this issue non-stop for two years react now. Bueller...Bueller...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 22, 11:13:00 PM:

Ambinder's latest on the subject now refers not at all to Guantanamo but describes military commisions and indefinte detention as a "tricky question". Stealing a line from SNL, "Realllllly!"

Another amusement on the same subject from Joe Biden (via the Telegraph),

"It seems that all a reporter has to do to find out about the pickle Barack Obama's is really in over his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison is to ask the veep, who was talking to the press at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo on the final day of his trip to the Balkans.

So will Obama fulfill his vow - announced amid great fanfare in an executive order on day two of his presidency - to close the facility by January 2010? "I think so," Biden responded, according to Newsweek's Holly Bailey.

So perhaps he will. Or perhaps not. We'll see.

Biden continued: "But, look, what the president said is that this is going to be hard. It's like opening Pandora's Box. We don't know what's inside the box."

He also said that "to the best of my knowledge" the number of prisoners "who are a real danger who are not able to returned or tried" has "not been established" by the Obama administration.

So he basically just confirmed his predecessor Dick Cheney's analysis that the decision was taken "with little deliberation, and no plan".

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