Saturday, May 23, 2009

Breaking News: Cleaning up shit is smelly.

I agree that the president should not have the power to detain anyone simply on his own word and that all prisoners should have the right of Habeas Corpus. And I am also aware that many on the left, like Rachel Maddow here, are up in arms about Obama's proposal yesterday to indefinitely detain certain prisoners currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

However, I think we need to cut the guy some slack here. This is a situation which he inherited. It was not one which he designed, it was one which Bush and Cheney designed.

Were it up to Obama, Guantanamo Bay would never have opened and the present problems would not exist.

However, one of the greatest problems he inherited was that certain prisoners, like Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and al Nashiri, are known to want to harm the US and her citizens; but, the fact that Bush and Cheney ordered them to be tortured, makes prosecution of them utterly impossible. Any court would dismiss evidence against them as tainted and order their immediate release.

So what choices does Obama have? The most obvious choice - and the one which the law currently demands - is that he should simply release these men. I could make the argument that any US citizens who died in future, as a result of the release of these men, would actually be the fault of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld; because it was down to the fact that they illegally tortured these men that made their prosecution impossible. However, I doubt that would go down very well with the families of their victims.

Had Obama been president at the time of these men's arrest, I feel sure that he would have prosecuted them. He would have done the very thing which Cheney yesterday rejected: he would have treated them as the criminals that they are.

It was Bush and Cheney who elevated these men to the position of warriors and who, by torturing them, made their prosecution impossible.

So we really aren't in a situation here where Obama can make a good or a bad choice. We are in a position, brought about by the incompetence, ideology and lack of foresight of the previous administration, where Obama's choice has been reduced to bad or infinitely worse.

And I agree that he is choosing the bad choice, I simply happen to think that's slightly better than the infinitely worse choice, where he is forced to release people who have vowed to kill Americans.

Unlike Bush, who made the cowardly decision to push this thorny problem down the road towards his successor, Obama has decided to clean up Bush's shit.

And yes, he has got some of it on his hands and he does smell a bit. But let's never forget whose shit this was in the first place. Bush created so much of the stuff that there was no ideal solution, no magic wand which Obama could wave and restore Habeas Corpus instantly for all. In a few, a very few cases, he will have to reverse and suspend the principles which he so eloquently laid out yesterday.

That sucks. But please, let us stop pretending that he did this through choice or that, had he been president at the time of these men's arrest, that this situation would ever have arisen.

He's been dealt a really, really bad hand. Let's cut the guy a sliver of slack as he takes on the gargantuan task of fixing Bush and Cheney's legal black hole.

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