Gitmo commission move the latest in a long line of Obama shifts
By: CNN Political Producer Alexander Mooney
Washington (CNN) - Those who have followed President Obama's stance on which court is appropriate to try accused terrorists can be forgiven for getting a severe case of whiplash.
After all, it was candidate Obama in 2008 who made clear he intended to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year of his presidency and put an end to military commissions there – the proceedings that extend only limited trial rights to accused terrorists. Then, it was President Obama who quickly signed an order calling for Guanatanomo's close while his Justice Department soon vowed that, in the interest of justice, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 terrorists will be tried in civilian courts.
But three years later – the same day Obama formally announced his reelection bid – Attorney General Eric Holder announced the alleged 9/11 terrorists will in fact not be tried in a civilian court but instead in a military trial at Guantanamo – the same court in the same facility Obama long ago promised would be shuttered.
The seeming about-face might, more than anything else, be a dramatic affirmation of the old axiom, "You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose."
It was a prediction none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney – an ardent defender of the use of military commissions – made shortly into Obama's presidency:
"I think the president will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come," he said during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in 2009.
So what exactly did candidate Obama say in 2008 when it came to trying accused terrorists?
First, he was going to close Guantanamo, calling it an ineffective "legal black hole:"
"By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been a failure. Over the course of nearly seven years, there has not been a single conviction for a terrorist act at Guantanamo. There has just been one conviction for material support of terrorism," he said in June of 2008. "Meanwhile, this legal black hole has substantially set back America's ability to lead the world against the threat of terrorism, and undermined our most basic values. But make no mistake: we are less safe because of the way George Bush has handled this issue."
Then, he was going to restore habeas corpus rights to alleged terrorists:
"Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy. We cannot afford to lose any more valuable time in the fight against terrorism to a dangerously flawed legal approach," he also said in June of 2008.
Promising to return America to the "moral high ground" in the war on terrorism, Obama issued a high profile executive order in his first official day as president that required the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year.
But last month, the president signed a very different executive order - one that resumed military trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Still, White House officials insisted nonetheless the president "remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."
Despite that order, civil liberty advocates took solace in the fact the president and his justice department at least appeared to stand behind their vow to try accused terrorists in civilian courts.
That was, until Holder's expected announcement Monday.
The president's primary concern is that the accused perpetrators "be brought to justice as swiftly as possible," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday in response to questions of the apparent about-face.