Since we’re mere plebes, could someone help explain how President Obama’s logic works? Here we’ve been lallygagging about, thinking the president could (must?) issue an executive order to halt Don’t Ask Don’t Tell dismissals, but he keeps insisting there’s nothing he can do until Congress takes action. Then how come he’s already broken his own promise to have Congress take action on a different matter — and instead is gearing up to issue an executive order to get his way?
The economy, health care, immigration … all controversial areas, sure, but one singular policy issue that really has no right answer is what to do about suspected terrorist detainees. Closing down Gitmo, as Candidate Obama promised to do as president, only means we have to figure out whether to release or relocate detainees. (Pictured above, on his second day in office Obama signs an executive order to close Gitmo.)
Obama originally promised that his “Administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime” to handle the detainees. But now Obama is said to be “crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely.” Sound familiar? Ah, right, because that’s what President George W. Bush would’ve done. So much for all that transparency Obama promised Americans.
The excellent Glenn Greenwald raises some obvious questions about what the executive order would do (Would it apply “only to current ‘War on Terror’ prisoners at places like Guantanamo and Bagram, or would they also apply to future, not-yet-abducted detainees as well? Would these powers apply to detainees picked up anywhere in the world, far away from ‘war zones’?”), but also makes this succinct conclusion: “There has now emerged a very clear — and very disturbing — pattern whereby Obama is willing to use legal mechanisms and recognize the authority of other branches only if he’s assured that he’ll get the outcome he wants. If he can’t get what he wants from those processes, he’ll just assert Bush-like unilateral powers to bypass those processes and do what he wants anyway.”
Forget for a moment the ethical quandary and the Bush comparisons this move creates, because we want to point out one glaring contradiction in Obama’s approach to policy:
When it comes to terrorist detainees, he’s comfortable issuing an executive order to get his way. But Obama — who keeps insisting that he really, truly, absolutely wants to repeal DADT — refuses to issue an executive order to “get his way” with gays in the military, and use his pen to keep more gay servicemembers from being kicked out.
Back to the subject of detainees, then, just for this grotesque, but appropriate, comparison. Greenwald:
[Obama will] indulge the charade that people he wants to keep in a cage are entitled to some process (a real court or military commissions) only where he knows in advance he will get what he wants; where he doesn’t know that, he’ll bypass those pretty processes and assert the unilateral right to keep them imprisoned anyway.
With DADT, Obama is working in reverse — he’s passing the buck to Congress, knowing the uphill battle there is steeper than it needs to be. But he’s still keeping a certain group of people in a cage.
If he really wanted to stop the dismissal of military gays, it’s clear he has no problem issuing executive orders that bypass Congress — making his argument that his hands are tied on DADT, well, absolutely moot.