Commentary Magazine


Obama Ignores Own Executive Order on Gitmo Detainee Rights

It seems ages ago that President Obama delivered a speech in the early days of his presidency, suffused with self-righteousness and moral demagoguery, announcing he was closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. Unable to resist the temptation to smear his predecessor’s name with distortions and half-truths, the former law professor summoned all his reckless certainty to educate the American people: “Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al-Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law.”

So Obama, who supported the Supreme Court’s precedent-gutting Boumediene decision, which granted non-citizen enemy combatants habeas corpus rights, ordered the facility closed. Because that was an obviously empty promise, Obama added another executive order two years later establishing periodic review for detainees at the prison. And then the wheels came off the Moral Authority Express. It turned out instead of bringing enemy combatants to Guantanamo, where detainees are well-fed and have access to attorneys, Obama has been sending them to a disease-ridden hell-on-earth in Somalia. And the Obama administration began urging the Supreme Court to ignore the detainees’ appeals. And now it seems those periodic review boards were–what would the president call them? Just words:

The Obama administration has begun limiting the legal rights of terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, telling a federal judge Tuesday the government alone should decide when the prisoners deserve regular access to their counsel.

In a 52-page filing, Justice Department lawyers said they have started restricting when Guantanamo prisoners can challenge their detention in a Washington-based federal court. If approved, any relaxing of the rules would be made on a case-by-case basis at the exclusive discretion of military officials, not by the courts.

But doesn’t this seem to contradict the point of the administration’s periodic review executive order, which according to CNN has “not been fully implemented”? Indeed it does, and the Obama administration, having misplaced its Hope and its Change and its New Brand of Politics, has a priceless explanation for it: “As a general matter, executive orders are viewed as management tools for implementing the president’s policies, not as legally binding documents that may be enforced against the executive branch.”

This is one reason this administration loves governing by executive order: Not only do the people’s representatives not get a say in the matter, but congressional legislation has the pesky attribute of being legally binding. To the Obama administration, the rule of law is a nice bumper sticker slogan, but in practice it’s for suckers and Republicans. Don’t bother Obama with such trifles–he’s got oceans to lower.