I can somewhat agree with Hugh Hewitt that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest may not have picked the headline for her story, “Bush’s ‘War’ On Terror Comes To A Sudden End“; however, her Pulitzer Prize was one for being a reporter, while the front-page story itself isn’t really a “news” report and seems to be a front-page editorial. The Post would do well to have Priest remain a reporter because her “analysis” piece has more holes than Swiss cheese.
The premise of Priest’s article begins in the fourth paragraph [emphasis mine]:
It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power.
Perceived abuses, not necessarily actual abuses. And who was responsible for giving the American people that perception? That’s right, those who have reported on the actions of the government, the liberal mainstream media. Dana Priest has been front and center in that effort; she won a Pulitzer Prize for an article she wrote about the overseas prisons the CIA had established in order to question captured terrorists. Those prisons, set up covertly, do seem to have been perfectly legal; yet, Priest and the Post ignored calls by the administration to not expose their existence. The questioning done in those prisons may very well have saved many American lives, but you won’t see more than a token reference of that in these reports, if there is even a reference at all; if that token reference does indeed exist, it is simply to show a perception of the article’s author to be an objective reporter.
Apparently having another Pulitzer Prize winning reporter on staff gave the Post leave to allow Dana Priest to pen a front-page editorial. Unfortunately, there are so many blatant errors as to render as untenable every conclusion she reaches in the entire piece.
Right off the bat she gets it wrong:
With the stroke of his pen, he [President Obama] effectively declared an end to the “war on terror,” as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.
How will Obama limit this reach? If based on what Priest says next, it isn’t going to be limited at all:
While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad,…
We already know that this is the case with the recent U.S. missile strike into Pakistan. So, where do the limits on the U.S. government come in if counterterrorism operations abroad aren’t going to be curtailed? The answer is they don’t, but Priest doesn’t let the facts get in the way of this story. Case in point:
…the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing U.S. laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.
I’m not sure where Priest has been since September 11, 2001, but three days after the attacks on that day (and signed into law four days after that) the Congress authorized the President to go after Al Qaeda as part of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. §§ 1541); the President didn’t declare this war, Congress did (as far as I’m concerned, the 2001 AUMF amounted to a Congressional Declaration of War, period, end of story).
That is two huge mistakes for someone who is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist: operations against terrorists abroad aren’t going to end, as was shown by Friday’s missile strike by U.S. forces on Pakistan; and, Congress declared what the Post calls “Bush’s ‘war’ on terror”. And those mistakes are on top of the title the Post gave to this story, that somehow this was all Bush’s war.
Viewing the piece, there are two items that seem to be correct, while the rest of the piece isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on [emphasis mine]:
…the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons.
Over time, a tiny circle of federal employees outside these teams got access to some of the reports of interrogations. Some were pleased by the new aggressiveness. Others were horrified. They began to push back gingerly, as did an even smaller number of congressional officials briefed on the reports.
As a matter of fact, the members of Ccngress of both parties, those who were in the know, didn’t push back at all, but encouraged the interrogations.
And that’s the point.
Let’s look at what Obama has actually done. He hasn’t ended the war against Islamist terrorists, especially those in Al Qaeda. He announced he will close Gitmo within a year, provided the administration can figure out if the terrorists can be moved somewhere else. Obama has asked for the military tribunals to be suspended for 120 days, but did not end them outright (he may not legally be able to); although the Boumediene decision struck down the denial of habeas rights for Gitmo detainees that were in the 2006 Military Commissions Act, the rest of the MCA, and the tribunals themselves, remain the method of prosecution for the detainees. The CIA will no longer operate their own prisons, but they will still be allowed to interrogate captured terrorists on bases maintained by the military. And despite what Obama has publicly stated about how the CIA will adhere to the rules outlined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) regarding questioning terrorists, he has laid out enough “wiggle room” in those public statements that might allow for harsher measures to be used. Whether that amounts to what leftists call “torture” when done by the Bush administration, nobody can say. So all Obama has actually ended was the CIA’s ability to open prisons around the world, which started under the Clinton administration, not that of George W. Bush.
In fact, that “wiggle room” in questioning of terrorists by the CIA may amount to a lot more. On the day of Obama’s inauguration, which I mentioned here, here, and here, the AP reported that anonymous Obama advisors mentioned a classified loophole that may be put in place to allow for enhanced interrogation techniques when questioning terrorists. That bit of information seems to be gaining traction as Newsweek, of all places, also reported a loophole:
In a closed-door appearance before the Senate intelligence committee, White House counsel Gregory Craig was asked whether the president was required by law to follow executive orders. According to people familiar with his remarks, who asked for anonymity when discussing a private meeting, Craig answered that the administration did not believe he was. The implication: in a national-security crisis, Obama could deviate from his own rules.
Naturally, the White House played the plausible deniability card and…denied it (if something is classified, nobody knows it is really going on, at least until that something is made public; that includes what is said in closed-door committee appearances). But it gets more interesting:
Some Capitol Hill sources and intel officials said Craig’s private remarks constituted a big loophole in new guidelines, one that would allow Obama to behave much like President Bush. “I don’t think there’s a really big change, sub rosa,” said one veteran undercover spy…What it probably means in practice, the spy said, is that Obama could, in a dire emergency, issue a secret presidential “finding” instructing the CIA or another agency to overstep boundaries of public policy.
Oh, but there is a problem:
But given the obloquy they have endured for following Bush’s orders on interrogations and detentions, said another intel insider, CIA officials might resist any attempts by Obama to issue classified operational orders that contradict his official policies. “They don’t want to be asked to do something in secret which has been publicly declared taboo,” the insider said.
For years, those who became Obama supporters have been screaming for prosecutions of all those in the Bush administration, down to operatives at the CIA, who “tortured” the terrorists. Obama’s selections to be at some of the top levels of the Justice Department have stated publicly that they may very well launch criminal investigations on this matter. Of course, those at the lower levels would probably be granted immunity if they can provide evidence of higher-ups doing anything illegal, and that would continue until top administration officials, maybe even the former President and Vice President, are charged with having had their underlings commit torture, and did so by issuing secret and classified orders. What this also means is that lower-level operatives at the CIA might very well ignore the same kind of orders from the higher reaches of the Obama administration simply for the sake of self-preservation, even if the country and the people are in imminent danger of attack.
So who really knows what Obama has done with “Bush’s ‘War’ On Terror”, because it is evident that Dana Priest either doesn’t know, or isn’t telling all that she does know. She has written a lot of “stuff” that fits a particular political point of view (her comments regarding the terrorists as being “prisoners of war” would be laughable, if they weren’t so egregiously wrong), not something that came out of a complete analysis of the facts. Plus, Priest doesn’t even bother to mention two of the most important functions at the Obama administration’s disposal for fighting terrorists: the now-codified Terrorist Surveillance Program that was started by President Bush and which updated FISA with Obama’s support; and, the secret tracking of the financial activity of terrorists, although this may have been severely hampered when the New York Times leaked this perfectly legal practice.
It may come out that Obama does make whole changes. He may try to end the tribunals, although he may require legislation by Congress to do so, which will have factor in how to use evidence that was gathered using procedures not allowed by either regular civilian law or in court martial procedures defined by the UCMJ; the federal government may then have to release every prisoner being detained. Obama may close Gitmo; but there will be a huge NIMBY (not in my backyard) backlash from the states (possibly from even the racist rednecks who have voted in Democratic Congressman “Benedict Arnold” Murtha, who said his district was available) if they are transferred to U.S. territory, or a backlash from the legal teams representing the detainees if they are moved to Afghanistan (which I doubt will happen). Obama could ask Congress to end the 2001 AUMF, even if he doesn’t get Osama bin Laden and the other vermin, although that will be a major public break of a campaign promise to get the terrorist, and would kill his chances at a second term; it would also return the U.S. to the failed methods of fighting terrorists as practiced by all Presidential administrations prior to the one just ended, methods which failed to protect the country on 9/11. Any one or more of these things would constitute a true break with the Bush administration by President Obama, something else Priest didn’t mention in her “analysis”. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Maybe Dana Priest should stick to reporting the news.