It has now been a little over a month since we learned just how far over the due process rule of law cliff the Obama Administration has gone with regard to politicization of the DOJ prosecutorial function in relation to terrorist trials. That striking realization came courtesy of Jane Mayer’s and Josh Gerstein’s respective reports on the Rahm/Obama negotiations with Lindsay Graham to go strictly with military commissions and Eric Holder’s seeming resignation that such may indeed be the case.
There are two new developments that would seem to indicate the Obama Administration is indeed moving toward capitulation to the neocon howlers on the issue of military tribunals over civilian trials. First, from Main Justice comes word that the Graham/Emanuel deal is looking like it is on and Graham has finalized his proposal on terrorist detentions and trials band and he and the administration are circulating it on the hill:
Graham’s proposal comes after weeks of discussion between the South Carolina senator and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In January, Emanuel and Graham began talks on a deal: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, would be tried in a military tribunal, in exchange for Graham’s support for a new U.S. detention center to replace Guantanamo Bay. (Graham has warned that his support for closing Gitmo would be affected by a civilian trial for KSM, which he adamantly opposes.) According to an unnamed administration official cited by The Post, those discussions have broadened and Graham now hopes to reach a “grand bargain” that would resolve many outstanding questions concerning terrorist detention.
The White House opposes some of the ideas in Graham’s proposal, such as a separate national security court to try alleged terrorist detainees, according to The Post. But other provisions — including one that would create a standard process for dealing with habeas petitions, where alleged terrorists challenge their status as “unlawful enemy combatants” in U.S. courts — are likely to find support, The Post said.
It is all disquieting enough, but the last part signals a abject willingness by the Obama Administration to have Congress restrict habeas access to courts; I guess they are noticing that real courts keep thinking there is no justification for detention of the people they have salted away for years at Gitmo.
The second piece of news comes vis Mike Isikoff and the Declassified Blog:
The White House may yet be several weeks away from announcing whether it plans to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder and order that the 9/11 conspirators be tried before military commissions rather than in civilian courts. But it’s not hard to figure out which way the wind is blowing.
The Pentagon is set to announce that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has appointed a new chief judicial officer for the Office of Military Commissions, according to three Defense Department sources familiar with the decision. The appointment, which could come as early as Wednesday, paves the way for the Pentagon to begin convening a series of high-profile terror trials before military commissions at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay–the very same prison the president had once pledged to have shut down by the beginning of this year.
“All the indications we’ve been given are to get ready for a lot of activity in Guanantamo,” said a military prosecutor, who asked not to be identified talking about upcoming cases. “It’s full steam ahead.
The appointment of retired Admiral Bruce MacDonald, who formerly served as the chief Judge Advocate of the Navy, as the new “convening authority” for the Office of Military Commissions is among the most important moves in an apparent gearing up for the expected new wave of trials. As convening authority, MacDonald–who replaces Susan Crawford, a Bush political appointee who retired two months ago–will have the responsibility to “refer” charges against Guantanamo terror suspects to trials after receiving recommendations from military prosecutors.”
There is much more in Isikoff’s report, including that Omar Khadr is still first in the tribunal queue and that a more “refined” prosecution of al-Nashiri is being worked up. If you believe that the military commissions are fatally flawed and that terrorists should be tried in Article III courts like the the non-state actor criminals they are, there is not much good news here. The handwriting for a complete ObamaRhama cave to the neocon howlers is getting carved awfully deep in the granite wall. The one halfway encouraging thing is that early reports on MacDonald are that he is a reasonable and decent pick for the convening authority spot, but time will tell.