U.S. Sens. David Vitter made the following statement in reaction to news reports regarding President Obama's announcement that the "U.S. would resume the military tribunals for Guantanamo terrorists that he unilaterally suspended two years ago, and he may even begin referring new charges to military commissions within days or weeks."
"This is an encouraging move in the right direction if the White House is serious about refocusing our efforts to try these terrorists in military commissions, where they belong," said Vitter. "I am concerned, however, that the White House is indicating that it will still attempt to try major terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as ordinary criminals in civilian courts. This is a non-starter -- the House CR prohibits funding for such trials -- and I will continue to advocate in the Senate to defund any such trials on American soil."
Last Congress, Vitter introduced legislation that prevented suspected terrorists and enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay from being tried in U.S criminal courts instead of military tribunals. Last year, he also joined 18 of his colleagues in a letter to President Obama expressing concern about his administration's decision to prosecute Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man who attempted to detonate a bomb aboard an American airliner on Christmas Day 2009, in a U.S. criminal court.
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Obama Ratifies Bush
Wall Street Journal (Opinion)
No one has done more to revive the reputation of Bush-era antiterror policies than the Obama Administration. In its latest policy reversal, yesterday Mr. Obama said the U.S. would resume the military tribunals for Guantanamo terrorists that he unilaterally suspended two years ago, and he may even begin referring new charges to military commissions within days or weeks.
The political left is enraged by what it claims is a betrayal, but we're glad to see Mr. Obama bowing to security reality and erring on the side of keeping the country safe--with one exception, about which more below.
On a conference call yesterday, senior Administration officials tried to sell their military commissions process as more "credible" than Mr. Bush's, but their policy changes are de minimis. In 2009, Congress made technical reforms for handling testimony and classified information. By executive order, a new panel will now also conduct a "periodic review" of detentions. But the bipartisan Military Commissions Act of 2006, or MCA, had already included "administrative review boards" dedicated to the same goal.
The White House yesterday also stressed its commitment to civilian terror prosecutions going forward, but that also doesn't mean much. Last year the Democratic Congress barred funding for transferring enemy combatants from Gitmo to the U.S., and that won't change with a Republican House.
The real news here is the final repudiation of Attorney General Eric Holder's attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 plotters as criminal defendants on U.S. soil. The killers at Guantanamo will now be brought to justice via a process that the President once depicted as akin to the Ministry of Love in "1984." On the campaign trail in 2008, Mr. Obama claimed that Mr. Bush "runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they're there or what they're charged with."
In an August 2007 speech that his advisers touted at the time, Mr. Obama promised to repeal this "legal framework that does not work." He even claimed that Bush policies undermined "our Constitution and our freedom" and that the Bush Administration had pressed a "false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand," a line he recycled in his Inaugural Address. He went out of his way to vote against the Military Commissions Act.
So much for all that. Yesterday the senior Administration officials even praised the "bipartisan effort" that produced that law. They're right. The MCA was a serious and painstaking compromise under the constitutional guidance of the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision, but the anti-antiterror lobby--including candidate Obama--maintained it was an affront to American values. The real test of Mr. Obama's new maturity will be if he puts the guts back into the tribunal process, restoring the funding and talent necessary to handle complex prosecutions that have been lost over the years amid the assault on Gitmo.
The other note of trouble is Mr. Obama's decision, also announced yesterday, to seek Senate ratification of a radical 1977 revision to the 1949 Geneva Conventions known as Additional Protocol 1. President Reagan repudiated Protocol 1 in 1987 because it vitiated the distinction between lawful and unlawful enemy combatants. Terrorists fight out of uniform and target civilians and thus do not deserve traditional prisoner-of-war protections. This was the two-decade political consensus until the Bush Presidency. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized in favor of Reagan's Protocol 1 decision.
Our guess is that Mr. Obama has adopted Protocol 1 to appease the domestic left and especially the "international community" that will be dismayed by his new embrace of Gitmo and George W. Bush's policies. Remember the moralizing Europeans? (See here.) Mr. Obama is nonetheless complicating the task of U.S. terror fighters, and encouraging further barbarism, by extending the laws of war to terrorists who hold combat restrictions in contempt.
Mr. Obama's antiterror policy migration may be startling but it does have a historic precedent. Republican isolationists opposed much of Harry Truman's policy framework at the dawn of the Cold War, only to have Dwight Eisenhower ratify nearly all of it when he became President. The responsibilities of power, and the realities of a dangerous world, tend to be educational.