The news has emerged that President Barack Obama is considering an executive order to impose a system of indefinite detention without trial in the United States of America. The New York Times interviewed Obama administration officials to uncover the reasons why:
At the heart of the issue are more than 200 men being held at Guantánamo, in some cases for years. Initially, the administration had hoped that most could either be sent back to their home countries or tried in criminal courts in the United States. But emptying the prison has proved politically difficult.
Officials acknowledge that they have had trouble persuading other countries to accept detainees, and it now appears that some detainees — as many as several dozen — are unlikely candidates for criminal trials because of legal issues, including having evidence against them that was obtained by coerced interrogations.
Legislation remains an option, officials said, but the possibility of an executive order, which would bypass Congress, seems to indicate that the administration fears it may be unable to reach an agreement with lawmakers on a new detention system to replace Guantánamo.
Got that? Let’s rephrase: the Obama White House wants to issue an executive order to detain people because it doesn’t believe a judicial trial would convict the people it wants imprisoned and it doesn’t believe that the sort of legislative bill it wants would pass Congress.
Remember your high school American civics class and the lesson on the checks and balances of power distributed between three coequal branches of government? When Barack Obama was a candidate a year ago, he told us he remembered that lesson, too. He told us that change doesn’t come from the top down, but from the bottom up. He told us that he had read the Constitution and taught the Constitution and believed in the Constitution. He told us he’d restore judicial review to detainees and the right to a fair trial. He told us he’d restore human rights and civil rights for individuals. He told us he’d restore due process and rule of law, not rule by edict.
Now that he’s President, and he doesn’t think he’ll get the outcome he wants on individual cases from the legislative and judicial branches, he’s decided he’s going to overrule judicial power, to overrule Congress’ power of legislation, to overrule the Constitution itself. Rather than deal with the pesky separation of powers, Barack Obama will issue his personal edict that in America, there is no more right to a speedy, public trial by impartial jury. Under Barack Obama’s presidential declaration, Barack Obama will be judge, Barack Obama will be jury, and Barack Obama will be jailer. There are names for a person who feels desperately that unless he controls every aspect of a situation, it will all turn out wrong. “Micromanager” is a polite one. “Control freak” is more blunt. “Tyrant” is usually the one we use in politics.
Does this remind you of anyone? Does it remind you of George W. Bush? Does it remind you of Dick Cheney? It should. The Obama administration has adopted the kingly aspirations of the Bush administration. History tells us that it’s a bad idea to let control freaks and tyrants grab the crown, or to fashion a crown for themselves when none exists.
I expect some of you are thinking right now that this really isn’t such a big deal, that it can’t be such a big deal, because Barack Obama seems like such a nice fellow. Besides, you might be thinking, President Obama is just doing what he has to do to clean up after the messes of the Bush administration, to deal with the aftermath of leftover detainees. He’ll resolve the issue of the Guantanamo detainees, you’re thinking, and then we can move forward without looking backward to the dawn of a new bright and shiny day where we all hold hands on the hillside and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony and buy the world a Coke and keep it company…
… well, hold on there, Sheila. Read what the Washington Post reports, after speaking to Obama administration officials, about the plans for this executive order:
Such detainees — those at Guantanamo and those who may be captured in the future — would also have the right to legal representation during confinement and access to some of the information that is being used to keep them behind bars…. One administration official said future transfers to the United States for long-term detention would be rare.
Did you notice the word “future” there? Funny word, “future”: it usually refers to what somebody’s planning to do next.