Friday, May 15, 2009

Obama Restarts Military Tribunals for Gitmo Detainees: An Unfortunate Decision

President Obama announced on May 15 that he would restart military tribunals for a handful of Guantanamo detainees - a move that will undoubtedly irk many liberals (and please many conservatives) (click here to read the story: The military tribunals had been set up by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, and had faced a plethora of criticism from liberals, as well as many foreign countries, for denying the detainees with basic constitutionally and internationally protected rights. While only a small fraction of the detainees would be tried in the military tribunals under the Obama plan (the rest of the detainees will be tried in U.S. courts, released to their home countries or transferred to other states), and while the Obama administration has announced that it would change some of the rules currently governing evidentiary and procedural issues within the tribunals, the move is still somewhat surprising. President Obama had, as a senator, opposed the military tribunals and criticized them as falling short of our fundamental constitutional standards. Moreover, President Obama has pledged to close down the Guantanamo detention facility by January 2010. The decision to revamp military tribunals is nothing but an eleventh-hour effort to prevent all the detainees from being transferred to the U.S., where they would be accorded with more procedural rights and constitutional protections. In fact, the Obama administration, while making a laudable decision to close down the Guantanamo prison, exhibited a short-sightedness in terms of providing other accommodations and procedural avenues for the detainees that are currently held there. Human rights organizations and liberal commentators have all called for the transfer of all detainees to U.S. courts for prosecution, or for the release of those detainees who cannot be properly charged in U.S. courts. Conservative commentators, however, have criticized the decision to close Guantanamo by arguing that many of the held detainees pose significant security risks, and that, as our war-time enemies, they should be held indefinitely and not provided access to our courts. By deciding to revamp the military tribunals, President Obama has taken up the middle ground: he is attempting to appease the liberals, by promising that only a handful of detainees will go through the military commissions and by liberalizing the tribunals' procedural rules, and at the same time, he is appealing to a conservative base by holding on to a Bush era system and institutions. The middle ground may be a politically salient move, but in this case, I believe that it is the wrong course of action. Military tribunals fall short of all of our constitutional standards and fundamental beliefs; as such, they should be abandoned - permanently. When it comes to the constitution, there should be no middle ground. When it comes to fundamental values and beliefs, there should be no compromise. President Obama should have held on to his senatorial position and should have parted ways with military tribunals.

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