On Gitmo, Hard-Line a Hard Sell for White House
Pick a story, any story.
There is this. After mulling over a more conciliatory approach during the days and weeks immediately following a Supreme Court setback last month, the Washington Post reported last night that the White House has taken a "harder" line in its approach to prosecuting the Guantanamo Bay detainees. Instead of hewing more closely to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a position which would almost certainly generate a favorable review at the Supreme Court (and in Congress), the Bush Administration now apparently intends to go ahead with only a slightly modified verison of its own plan to process the men using "military commissions."
But there is also this. Reuters is running with a story that puts a decidedly more optimistic spin on things. According to the wire service, the White House "now appeared more willing to negotiate" with key Senators than it was before. Writes Vicki Allen: "Two key Republican senators said on Thursday they were optimistic they could reach an accord with the Bush administration to fix the system for trying foreign terror suspects struck down by U.S. Supreme Court."
Both news organizations cannot be right, right? So while I am as loyal as you can get to the wonderful folks at the Post (hope you are reading this, dear editor) I hope it is the paper, and not the wire service, that has it all wrong. Because a hard-line White House stand on this issue right now is a terrible idea-- a stubborn refusal to recognize the legal and practical realities of the situation-- and one that could delay the actual trials of the men for many more years. Congress should finally exercise its own judgment and power and refuse to explicitly authorize the use of these commissions (at least as the White House is pitching them). Instead, Congress should authorize procedures for the men that both protect national security and give the men decent fair trial rights. The White House believes that dynamic (protection and fairness) is impossible. But that's wrong, too. If the White House wins this battle, and the commissions move forward with only a few tweaks from their earlier iterations, the Supreme Court is likely to step back into this dispute, a year or so from now, and again reject the plan.
Is it just posturing by Administration officials? A little pre-negotiation bluster? Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Post: "You'll find, I think, a blending of the UCMJ and the commission principles." The more that "blending" looks like the UCMJ, the better chance it'll have of passing constitutional muster. The less it looks like the UCMJ, the better chance there is that we'll be mulling over what to do with the Gitmo detainees in 2008 and beyond.
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