Obama continues the Bush line....
He keeps affirming that Bush was right....
Jack Goldsmith, a law professor at Harvard, has produced a fascinating analysis of the difference between Bush and Obama's policies for combating terrorism. His surprising conclusion is that the difference is more in rhetoric than in substance.
For example, Bush's fundamental premise was that America is "at war" with al-Qaeda. Obama's Justice Department has already also asserted that, as a matter of law, America is "at war" with al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
That legal framework led the Bush administration to policies such as the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without trial. Guess what? Obama's Justice Department has advised the President that the US can detain, indefinitely and without trial, those who "strongly support" al-Qaeda.
So although Obama is committed to closing Guantanamo, there are 600 terrorist suspects detained by the US at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Obama's administration has made it clear that none of them have rights under habeas corpus. Bagram is just like Guantanamo, only bigger and less comfortable. Obama has no plans to shut Bagram. He will expand it: the "surge" in Afghanistan guarantees that more "enemy combatants" will be detained "until hostilities cease" – that is, indefinitely, and without trial.
Obama has increased the programme of targeted assassination championed by Cheney. He has used unmanned drones to kill terrorist suspects in Afghanistan at a greater rate than his predecessor did, with a correspondingly higher number of women and children being killed by missiles intended to eliminate individual terrorist targets.Obama has also continued rendition: the arrest of suspects in one country before transporting them for interrogation in another.
Even on the matter of "enhanced interrogation techniques" – the sort of thing that everyone else calls torture – there is more continuity than both Obama and Cheney's rhetoric suggests. Obama has forsworn the use of torture. But Leon Panetta, the man he appointed as CIA Director, has said that there are circumstances in which the Agency should be given permission to use "tougher interrogation techniques".
It is not difficult to imagine what those circumstances are. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. If one of those finds its way into the hands of an al-Qaeda group, the terrorists' first priority will be to detonate it in an American city. Should the Americans arrest someone with knowledge of where that bomb was, what would Obama's response be? It would be to endorse "enhanced interrogation" of the kind recommended by Dick Cheney.
Obama would be charismatic, graceful and reasonable when explaining why it had to be done: if you look and sound like Obama, you can do things that you cannot get away with if you look and sound like Dick Cheney or George Bush. But that would be the only difference – and Americans should probably be grateful for that fact.