Monday, November 10, 2008


I said this in the comments to Tom's post from yesterday, but I want to repeat it here: yes, Barack Obama does tack rightward sometimes, and it can be disappointing, but I appreciate the fact that, when one of his policy pronouncements is criticized by the right, he tends to tinker at the margins while making a point of preserving the core -- i.e., the very aspect of pronouncement that was being criticized.

A timetable for Iraq? He may have adjusted the details, but he stuck to the goal of a 16-month withdrawal. Reversing the Bush tax cuts on the well-to-do? Still part of the plan. Direct talks with Castro and Ahmedinejad and Chavez? He didn't walk away from this notion even to try to win Florida.

I think of these as the antitheses of Sister Souljah moments -- they're anti-Souljah moments. I'm not sure what his execution is going to be like, but he doesn't abase himself and jettison controversial notions simply because right-wingers start caterwauling.

And now he wants to close Gitmo, hold detainees' trials in the U.S., and throw out the current military tribunal system:

President-elect Obama's advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds, of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice.

...Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.

...A third group of detainees -- the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information -- might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks....

John McCain did talk about shipping the Gitmo detainees to Fort Leavenworth and then conducting tribunals just the way Bush conducted them -- but most of the right hates all this. Back in June, when Obama denounced Gitmo and called for due process (although he explicitly ruled out "giving these detainees the same full privileges as Americans citizens") Rush Limbaugh howled that he was "going to go back to the Clinton era way of fighting the war on terror in the courts" and imagined a trial of Osama bin Laden in which "some slick lawyer gets him off."

But Obama's undeterred.

Spencer Ackerman, despite a healthy amount of skepticism, is right about this:

... consider not only that this is one of the first initiatives that Obama is pursuing -- it's one of the first that he's leaking, as well. This is as clear a signal as can be sent that the Bush era isn't just over, it will be actively rolled back.

Yeah, yeah, I know -- as Ackerman says, what's up with this new hybrid legal system the Obamaites are talking about? I'm not sure -- but (as I said back in June) I think it's certainly possible that such a system can provide justice. There are a range of legal systems that reasonable people would regard as fair. Maybe this one won't be. But I see no reason to assume the worst.

A final point: We're decidedly not in "only Nixon could go to China" territory here. Two years ago, it might have seemed as if a Republican president could close Gitmo, but a Democrat would have to proceed cautiously, lest he or she be perceived as "weak." Obama doesn't seem to be playing by those rules.

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