As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hope Comes To Civil Liberties

Given the media's desire to reassure everyone that America will still have the power to torture and indefinitely detain even if Barack Obama signs them out of existence, it's actually hard to know exactly whether today marks a triumph of the rule of law or the return of illegal actions back into the shadows. Time will tell. However, if Glennzilla is this pleased, I'm willing to go along with him.

Barack Obama will have spent his first several days in office issuing a series of executive orders which, some quibbling and important caveats and reservations aside, meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians -- everything from ordering the closing of Guantanamo to suspending military commissions to compelling CIA interrogators to adhere to the Army Field Manual to banning CIA "black sites" and, perhaps most encouragingly (in my view): severely restricting his own power and the power of former Presidents to withhold documents and other information on the basis of secrecy, which has been the prime corrosive agent of the Bush era. As a result, establishment and right-wing figures who have been assuring everyone that, in these areas, Obama would scorn "the Left" (meaning: those who believe in Constitutional safeguards) and would continue most of Bush's "counter-Terrorism" policies are growing increasingly nervous about this flurry of unexpected, Bush-repudiating activity.

There's one additional order that Greenwald didn't mention - the case of Ali al-Marri has been put up for review.

Presidential Memorandum on Review of the Detention of al-Marri

The President instructed the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence to conduct a review of the status of the detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri who is currently held at the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. This will ensure the same kind of legal and factual review is undertaken of the al-Marri case that is being undertaken of the Guantanamo cases.

This is very important. Al-Marri is a legal resident of the United States being held without charges on American soil. After being held on unrelated charges of credit card fraud, he was abruptly designated an enemy combatant and thrown in a Navy brig. The President basically unilaterally decided that a legal resident was an enemy and locked him up. That's the stuff of dictatorships. Al-Marri's lawyers are taking this to the Supreme Court and a legal brief would be needed from the government within 30 days. The restoration of habeas corpus by executive order and this review of the al-Marri case suggests that this will be resolved amicably and within the confines of our best ideals. The Obama Administration wants a delay in the Supreme Court case until the review is completed.

"His case is currently before the Supreme Court. We have asked for a delay in ... going before the Supreme Court in dealing with this case, so that we can properly review the evidence against him," Obama said on his second day as president.

Lawyers for al-Marri, who has been held in a US military prison since 2003 without charge after then-president George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant, filed briefs for the review on Wednesday, defense counsel Jonathan Hafetz told AFP.

"The government brief was due February 20 but we have already agreed, at the solicitor general's request, to a 30-day extension for that," Hafetz said, adding that he had not seen the executive order.

The 30-day delay would give the Obama administration until around March 20 to file briefs and the case would be reviewed by the Supreme Court in April, Hafetz said.

"We have agreed to that modest delay but would vigorously oppose any further delay that would push the case beyond the current Supreme Court term which ends in June," Hafetz said.

Hopefully this is a serious review and not a stall tactic. But given everything else, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. We need to keep pressing the issue, but justice is starting to roll down like waters.

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