With an executive order directing the shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, President Barack Obama signaled that reform is coming to U.S. anti-terror strategies.
Redressing Bush administration excesses and missteps in its anti-terror campaign will require more than a simple declaration from the new administration. An official inquiry into Bush policies should be undertaken, if only to document abuses.
Two key challenges await Obama.
He must craft a better strategy for bringing terror suspects to justice, preferably in the federal courts or under courts-martial rules.
In doing so, the nation should eschew offshore jails and secret prisons akin to those maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Meanwhile, tactics used to safeguard the nation against further attack — from detection to capture to treatment of terror suspects –‘ need to be reshaped so they’re ‘consistent with who we are as Americans,’ as a top Obama aide said.
That means having close court oversight of intelligence surveillance. It means adhering to the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation and detention of suspects.
Even though Bush contends his policies headed off further attacks after Sept. 11, 2001, his administration blundered badly.
It failed to bring terror suspects to justice. The administration’s extreme tactics gave the nation several black eyes, trampled civil liberties and flouted international human-rights standards, destroying faith in the United States.
Closing the Cuba detention camp is the first step toward restoring order to the terror fight. By all means, terror suspects must be prosecuted, but the process must be fair in order to be viewed as legitimate.
The preferred course is to honor due-process rules. Bush officials tried an end-run but the Supreme Court has rebuked them at several turns. It’s encouraging that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says he will seek to prosecute some detainees from Guantanamo through the federal courts.
The problem for some detainees, however, will be that the cases against them have been tainted by harsh interrogation. Indeed, U.S. officials already concluded they couldn’t try a Saudi detainee alleged to be the 20th hijacker because he was tortured. Detainees who cannot be charged should be repatriated to other countries, where they can be supervised if posing a danger.
To its credit, the Obama legal team at the Justice Department and in the White House appears staunchly against torture and resistant to any idea of a new law providing for indefinite detention inside the United States. Similarly, Obama should repudiate the Bush policy of depriving suspects of most legal rights by declaring them enemy combatants. Though much of his attention will be devoted to getting the economy back on track, the new president needs to move quickly and decisively to enact anti-terror reforms that embrace core democratic values while still keeping the nation safe. Philadelphia Inquirer McClatchy-Tribune News Service MCT Campus