The Gitmo Trap

by dday

Change has come early to Guantanamo Bay.

A military judge on Tuesday postponed next week's trial of Canadian captive Omar Khadr, easing pressure on the new occupant of the White House to make a swift decision on military commissions.

Army Col. Patrick Parrish announced the delay at a pre-trial hearing Tuesday morning at the war court, which quit for the day before President Barack Obama took office. Hearings at both commissions courtrooms were scheduled to resume Wednesday morning [...]

Khadr, captured at 15, is charged with murder as a war crime for allegedly throwing a grenade in July 2002 in a firefight in Afghanistan that killed Sgt 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M.

Human rights groups had appealed to Obama even before he took office to halt the Jan. 26 trial.

Khadr, now 22, has grown into burly, bearded 6-foot-2 adulthood behind the razor wire of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the consternation of children's rights advocates, who say he should have been treated as a ''child soldier'' -- not interrogated for years as a terror suspect.

In fact, the prosecutors of the ongoing trials moved to halt all of them under orders from the President, as they await Obama's new formulation on military commissions, calling for an indefinite continuance. And Judge Parish has granted that request. Defense lawyers actually opposed this because they fear a preservation of the flawed system. But it appears that Obama's advisors want to flush the system and try terror suspects in federal courts rather than the military commissions.

The president-elect's aides are still formulating their plan for shutting the lockup, which has come to symbolize indefinite detention without charges. Yet there appears to be agreement among many experts, including some Obama aides and outside advisers, on key points, such as turning over terror suspects to federal courts and ending the use of military commissions.

"I do have some predispositions on this subject which I think are similar to the President-elect's. I think it is preferable that we proceed in . . . civilian courts," said Jeh Johnson, Obama's choice as the Pentagon's top lawyer, at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.

This is why I'm finding that leak to Bob Woodward of Susan Crawford's position on the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani so disturbing. Crawford, a lifelong Republican, made the very specific point that she stopped Qahtani's military commission trial because he was tortured. By extension, he could never receive a fair trial in the US for this reason. And yet Crawford was insistent that Qahtani was one of the "worst of the worst" and that he should not be released. This is an argument for maintaining Gitmo, and I'm not the only one who thinks it's a trap.

GUDE: It does look very much as if the Obama is going to favor prosecutions in US courts, and any question about the psychological competence of the defendants could call into question those prosecutions. When you look at it in the bigger picture –- when you combine this statement by Crawford, her first ever interview, just days before the end of the Bush administration -– when you combine that with the story out of the Pentagon that they have upped the number of detainees that they claim have returned to the battlefield from 30 to 61, more than 10 percent of the detainees who have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in 2002, this looks like a coordinated effort to tie the hands of the Obama team, to make it much more difficult for the Obama administration to pursue its own policies on Guantanamo, and perhaps even down the road to undermine the Obama administration as it pursues its activities to close Guantanamo, pursue trials in US courts, and release some detainees either back to their home countries or transfer them to other countries for further incarceration.

DUSS: So, in your view, is this Dick Cheney, in his last moments in power, trying to lock in his methods, and his policies?

GUDE: You’ve seen in the numerous exit interviews that both he [Cheney] and Bush have been giving, they have been talking about this very issue about how they view that Guantanamo is going to be very hard. It’s going to be very hard to close, we’ve done what we could, and the reason why we’ve done what we could is because this is such a hard issue. And Susan Crawford used to work for Dick Cheney and a lot of people are saying, “you see, even Susan Crawford, who used to work for Dick Cheney, has seen the light and she’s admitting to torture.” Well, I choose to view it in a different way. And perhaps I have too negative a view of these things, but she’s still doing Dick Cheney’s work in my view. She is making it much more difficult now. This revelation makes it much more difficult to pursue the policy that the Obama team would like to pursue.

It's not just Qahtani, who is probably incapacitated, but Crawford is basically alluding to others who may be capable enough, but the torture of whom would allow them to be acquitted and released, perhaps because the evidence against them is tainted, or the fact of their torture would be grounds for mistrial. And you know that the right will be calling Obama a terrorist sympathizer if one of these guys were set free through no fault of his own. The Crawford interview did change everything, but maybe not in the way a lot of people think. She may have extended the lifespan of Guantanamo by months, years, or even indefinitely. Let's be cautious about today's good news.