President Obama on Monday reversed his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, permitting military trials to resume with revamped procedures but implicitly admitting the failure of his pledge to close the prison camp.
Team Obama won't go so far as to vindicate Bush policies, however, and have tried to appease the left by explaining that this isn't exactly Bush's GITMO. There is supposedly a new periodic review process in place. The WSJ notes that this was actually tweaked in 2006:
By executive order, a new panel will now also conduct a "periodic review" of detentions. But the bipartisan Military Commissions Act of 2006, or MCA, had already included "administrative review boards" dedicated to the same goal.
The Wall Street Journal has some concerns with Protocol 1:
The other note of trouble is Mr. Obama's decision, also announced yesterday, to seek Senate ratification of a radical 1977 revision to the 1949 Geneva Conventions known as Additional Protocol 1. President Reagan repudiated Protocol 1 in 1987 because it vitiated the distinction between lawful and unlawful enemy combatants. Terrorists fight out of uniform and target civilians and thus do not deserve traditional prisoner-of-war protections. This was the two-decade political consensus until the Bush Presidency. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized in favor of Reagan's Protocol 1 decision.
Our guess is that Mr. Obama has adopted Protocol 1 to appease the domestic left and especially the "international community" that will be dismayed by his new embrace of Gitmo and George W. Bush's policies. Remember the moralizing Europeans? (See below.) Mr. Obama is nonetheless complicating the task of U.S. terror fighters, and encouraging further barbarism, by extending the laws of war to terrorists who hold combat restrictions in contempt.
It may all be political posturing in preparation for 2012, but however it comes, I'm glad the administration is now at least making gestures to return to military tribunals and keep GITMO open. Take it with a grain of salt, though. See how it unfolds.
I don't think George W. Bush should look for his apology note in the mail anytime soon. Even though Obama bashed Bush relentlessly on this issue, and even though he's now adopted many of Bush's policies, he'll never admit that Bush was right. He'll stand by the old, "but we've tweaked it and made it BETTER" argument. That's okay. Whatever keeps America safe.