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White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” (Meyer 1/25/2009)
Provisions for indefinite detention included in the 2012 “National Defense Authorization Act,” an annual ‘must pass’ defense spending bill, begin to generate controversy soon after the proposed text is published. The language drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee provides for indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of essentially anyone accused of supporting or being associated with groups “engaged in hostilities” with the United States, including US citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) begins monitoring the proceedings and urging the public to oppose the bill. (Milgrom 7/6/2011) Other civil liberties and human rights groups will follow suit, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. The ACLU, CCR, and HRW point out that indefinite detention without charge or trial has not been codified since the McCarthy era. (Buttar 12/6/2011; HRW.org 12/15/2011; CCRJustice.org 1/4/2012; Amnesty International 1/5/2012) Constitutional experts Jonathan Turley and Glenn Greenwald will repeatedly condemn the bill’s indefinite military detention provisions. (Turley 1/2/2012; Greenwald 12/15/2012) Two retired four-star Marine Generals, Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, will criticize the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision in an op-ed published in the New York Times, writing that under the law, “Due process would be a thing of the past.” And, “[T]his provision would expand the battlefield to include the United States—and hand Osama bin Laden an unearned victory long after his well-earned demise.” (Krulak and Hoar 12/13/2011) Congress will pass the bill on December 15 (see December 15, 2011) and President Obama will sign it into law on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). A poll conducted shortly after the bill is passed by Congress will find that only one in four likely voters support the NDAA (see December 22-26, 2011). After the bill is signed into law, states and municipalities will begin to pass laws and resolutions opposing the bill (see December 31, 2011 and After).
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