Sunday, February 8, 2009

U.S. Drops Charges Against al-Nahiri

ACLU Blog of Rights reported yesterday that Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority for Guantanamo's Military Commissions, has withdrawn all changes against Abdul al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the alleged attackers of the USS Cole. The charges can be reinstated later, and al-Nashiri remains in custody at Guantanamo.

In an executive order issued earlier this month, President Obama had suspended all military commissions hearing, pending a review of their procedures, which have been heavily criticized by human rights and legal groups. But in a rebellion of sorts against Obama's policy, chief military judge at Guantanamo, Col. James L. Pohl, had refused the administration's order for a delay in the al-Nahiri proceedings. The stage was set for a confrontation between the Obama adminstration and the Pentagon, until Judge Crawford stepped in.

Crawford explained:
I considered carefully the 5 February 2009 request by the prosecution to withdraw charges and specifications in the case of United States v. A d al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Abdu al-Nashiri. I find that withdrawal is in the best interests of justice. Pursuant to my authority under Rule for Military Commissions 604, I hereby withdraw without prejudice all charges and specifications referred to trial by military commission in this case.
Jake Trapper, at ABC's blog Political Punch, describes some of the pressures the military is exerting on the administration in this case (and by extension, on Obama's basic policies on torture and interrogations):
The original plan was for the announcement not to be made until after President Obama meets with the families of victims of terrorist attacks on 9/11 and on the U.S.S. Cole Friday afternoon, where he will assure them that this step was not done to be lenient towards al-Nashiri.

The move is being done to stop the continued prosecution of al-Nashiri in a court system that his administration may ultimately find illegitimate, not for any other reason, sources told ABC News....

Asked for reaction to the news, Commander Kirk Lippold (Ret.), former Commander aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was bombed on October 12, 2000, told ABC News that he was "concerned" about the move.

"For some reason the administration says what's been expressed through the legislature is not sufficient," Lippold said of the military commissions, which he said had "undergone extensive legal and legislative review...They need to allow the process to go forward."

The 26-year Navy veteran said he found the decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay "disappointing," but he seemed willing to hear the president out.
Whether it's Col. Pohl, or Commander Lippold (Ret.), we are hearing more and more the voices of career military men who are upset that any substantive change in their operations will be effected by Obama's reforms. While Obama tacks far to the right to placate these Pentagon types, nothing seems to make them happy, and capitulation to these forces would mean the Bush/Rumsfeld Pentagon will continue on their merry way, with military commission trials that allow torture evidence, and interrogation techniques that amount to torture. These policies will be maintained by waving the bloody shirt of U.S. deaths in the "war on terror." Never mind that the U.S. has killed hundreds of thousands and tortured untold thousands over this same period.

If Obama even intends to really change how the U.S. military and intelligence agencies operate -- and it's unclear that he really does -- then he will have to fight forces inside his own Pentagon who are dead set on seeing such change defeated. He can start first with lifting his administration's position asking "a San Francisco federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought against [Bush attorney John] Yoo by Jose Padilla." At the same time, they can drop the Bush-initiated claims of "state secrets" privilege in the Jeppesen and al-Haramain cases.

Within the next few weeks, any pretense the Obama administration has about seriously changing Bush torture/detention/secrecy policy will be put to the test. Failing such tests will mean a fight within the progressive movement between those who will defend the Obama administration at all costs, and those who will oppose it when it goes off the rails. A similar battle will probably occur over military policy, as the war in Afghanistan heats up, fueled by U.S. determination to carry the fight into Pakistan.

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