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Ron Radosh

Obama’s Wiggle-Room on Counterterrorist Policy

January 23rd, 2009 - 4:46 pm

In his inaugural address, Obama laid out his policy for dealing with terrorism.  He said, “We intend to win this fight. We are going to win it on our own terms.”  And on his first day in office, he issued Executive Orders rescinding Bush Administration policy on countering terrorism. This was, as a New York Times story noted, a declaration that “struck a powerful new tone and represented an important first step toward rewriting American rules for dealing with terrorism suspects.”

The executive orders he just signed both closed the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay within one year, and ended the CIA’s secret prisons and use of so-called “harsh interrogation methods;”  i.e., torture. According to the President’s order, all interrogations will have to follow the noncoercive methods outlined in the official U.S. Army Field Manual. Obama also issued an order for cessation of military trials already under way at Guantanamo.

But will these measures prove to be just symbolic?  Those who are complaining about Obama’s reversal of Bush Administration security policy have not paid attention to the wiggle-room he has left himself.  Certainly Obama does not want our nation hit again by a terrorist attack during his watch. What would the public say if one did occur, and it became clear that the United States had captured al-Qaeda or other terrorists who might have known about the operation before it took place, but that all efforts to get them to talk via Army Field Manual methods had produced only silence?

Should such a scenario occur, Americans would be up in arms about the Administration’s failure to do what was necessary to protect us. That is why, I think, Obama issued an Executive Order that can easily be replaced with another if he deems it necessary.  Two tasks forces have already been set up by the President. The first, led by the Attorney General and Secretary of Defense, will report to the President about detainee policy at Guantanamo.

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