Will Obama keep some Bush antiterror tactics?
The new administration’s stance in a rendition case raises questions about how much it will break from past policy.
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The British High Court had sought to disclose certain details and documents related to the case, in part because of the alleged involvement of British intelligence agents. But the British government urged the court not to do so because the Bush administration had threatened to stop sharing counterterrorism intelligence with London should the information be made public, according to the High Court’s decision.Skip to next paragraph
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The High Court noted that there was an expectation that “the situation had changed significantly following the election of President Obama, who was avowedly determined to eschew torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The High Court opinion continues: “We have, however, been informed by counsel for the Foreign Secretary that the [US] position has not changed.”
The decision says the Obama administration was acting out of a desire to maintain the secrecy of information obtained through intelligence-sharing, rather than a desire to protect the Bush administration. The High Court added, “However, as we have observed the United States government will still not make the information public.”
Some analysts question the new administration’s motives in the London and San Francisco cases. “It is clear there is an interest in covering up part of the past, and to cover up some of the wrongs that occurred during the Bush administration,” says Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.
Investigating torture allegations
The next big test, says Mr. Anders, will be whether the Obama administration authorizes criminal investigations of alleged torture and abuse of suspected terrorists under the Bush administration. “The statute of limitations period is starting to run out on some of these potential crimes,” he says.
Many analysts are also monitoring the pending US Supreme Court case of Ali Saleh al Marri. In that case, the justices are being asked to examine whether the president can order indefinite military detention without charge of a foreign college student who was legally present in the US but suspected of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent. The government’s brief is due to be filed March 23.
Mr. Marri’s lawyer, ACLU’s Jonathan Hafetz, says it would be a significant departure for Obama to adopt the Bush administration’s approach to the case. “It is a very extreme position they are asserting,” he says.
Ms. Daskal agrees. “The strong hope and expectation is that President Obama will moot the entire proceeding by returning Marri to federal court for prosecution or transferring him to Qatar, his home country,” she says.
Despite what they view as setbacks, many analysts caution that the new administration has just taken office. Multiple policy reviews are under way, they say.
“I am putting my faith in this president and his administration to do the right thing,” says Barbara Olshansky, a Stanford law professor who is representing detainees at a US military prison in Afghanistan.
“I really had lost hope,” she said of her legal battles during the Bush administration. “It has been a really long fight and I had lost hope and I have it back – which is kind of an amazing thing to say.”
Anders urges Americans to be vigilant. “People have to hold their government accountable, whether it is George Bush’s government or Barack Obama’s government,” he says.