Bellinger on Bush-Obama Continuities & KSM Trial


bellinger twn state.jpgThe Dutch premier newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, has this past week run a candid interview done by DC Bureau Chief Tom-Jan Meeus with John Bellinger III, who is defending Obama administration attorneys from vicious attacks launched by Liz Cheney.
Bellinger served as Condoleezza Rice’s senior counsel at the Department of State and also was the senior lawyer serving at the National Security Council during Rice’s tenure there. Bellinger was one of the most active opponents within the Bush administration to the torture-embracing legal culture promulgated by Cheney National Security Adviser and later Chief of Staff David Addington.
Here is the entire interview in English, but I pulled these interesting quotes:

. . .I think that many of the initiatives she took as Secretary of State have been continued by the Obama administration. The big policy changes were implemented on her watch, in Bush’ second term. And Obama obviously has the same pragmatic and moderate approach.”


Q: The bottom line is that the Bush and Obama terrorism policies are very similar?
JB: Oh, absolutely. The military commissions have been maintained. The policy of renditions has been maintained. The idea of holding people indefinitely under the laws of war and without trials has been maintained. There has been no movement on the Geneva Conventions. The president has said he affirms the conventions but the president has not announced that he holds these people as prisoners of war. So all the policies that soured U.S. relations with Europe during the Bush administration have been continued. There has been more continuity than change.”


Q: The possibility is raised that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed will not be tried in a civilian court. How do you see that?
JB: I hope it is not true. I think the administration would prefer that not to happen. It will be an embarrassing reversal of their policies. (…) And it is hard to tell at this point where the Obama administration will come out. I think the administration is still trying to do this on a safe facility, perhaps a military base. I know that they explore both the legality and the practicality of establishing a federal court, for a one time purpose, in the middle of a military base.”

I think that John Bellinger is right that Obama’s steps thus forward in managing combat detainees have been very similar to the Bush administration. This is regrettable as I think that former White House Counsel Gregory Craig was on the right track in getting GITMO shut down and a better legal process in place before Rahm Emanuel derailed his efforts.
Bellinger is also opposed to a military tribunal solution for KSM’s trial — and essentially rebukes Liz Cheney’s campaign against Obama administration Department of Justice lawyers with his comments about the continuity between the Bush and Obama policies.
Interesting read.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “Bellinger on Bush-Obama Continuities & KSM Trial

  1. David says:

    Dick has done a masterful job of programming his daughter.


  2. Dirk says:

    While Guantanamo remains open with 215 prisoners and Bagram currently holds 645 detainees, the “black-sites” you seem to be implying were explicitly ordered closed in Jan. 2009 by President Obama:
    Further there is only one prison in Iraq that remains to be turned over to Iraqi authorities and that is Camp Cropper which will be turned over on Jul 15, 2010. Unfortunately, Iraqi authorities have asked the US to maintain custody of 100 high risk detainees after that time.
    The article above, which you acknowledged, outlines an agreement that will help facilitate the closure of Guantanamo. That will necessitate using a combination of military tribunals and US Federal trials, as appropriate. It is extremely hard to get other countries to take up those prisoners if the US won’t adjudicate them and second of all accept some on US soil.
    The W.P. article above, which you chose to ignore, was the one where H. Clinton stated that she was:
    “Rolling out the State Department’s latest human rights report, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that, for the first time, the United States will submit itself to a process in which its record might be judged by some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
    so, the US will be covered in the 2010 report.
    As far as renditions are concerned: “Within days of his inauguration, President Obama signed an Executive Order opposing rendition torture and establishing a task force to provide recommendations about processes to prevent rendition torture.” which you will find on Wikipedia if you search for “Extraordinary rendition”. So while “rendition” may still occur the highly objectionable “extraordinary rendition” has been officially ended.


  3. Don Bacon says:

    Guantanamo is only a sliver of the thousands of foreigners that the US holds in inhuman conditions w/o due process in various prisons or “detention centers” around the world, but especially in Afghanistan, as formerly in Iraq.
    Again, if anyone missed it: “The military commissions have been maintained. The policy of renditions has been maintained. The idea of holding people indefinitely under the laws of war and without trials has been maintained.”– John Bellinger III, March 2010
    That wasn’t my “diatribe”, those are the facts, which you have avoided addressing, “nearing a deal” notwithstanding.


  4. Dirk says:

    “The United States is not covered in the report, of course.”
    Looks like you spoke too soon, Don, in your diatribe aimed at the Obama Administration. They’re not perfect of course and will no doubt disappoint many with overinflated expectations that are wildly out of touch with reality.
    Also, it looks like the administration is actually going to consider Sen Graham’s proposal:
    From “The White House is nearing a deal with a bipartisan group of senators to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and pave the way for more detainees to be tried before military commissions,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal is being worked out with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). “Senate Democratic aides say Mr. Graham believes two other Republicans are willing to join the compromise.”


  5. Don Bacon says:

    The US State Department prepares human rights reports annually.
    from the 2009 report, published March 11, 2010:
    In the early 1970s the United States formalized its responsibility to speak out on behalf of international human rights standards. In 1976 Congress enacted legislation creating a Coordinator of Human Rights in the Department of State, a position later upgraded to Assistant Secretary. Legislation also requires that U.S. foreign and trade policy take into account countries’ human rights and worker rights performance and that country reports be submitted to the Congress on an annual basis.
    The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices cover internationally recognized civil, political and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights include freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, from prolonged detention without charges, from disappearance or clandestine detention, and from other flagrant violations of the right to life, liberty and the security of the person.//
    The 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices covered nearly 200 countries from Angola (“arbitrary arrest and detention; official corruption and impunity; judicial inefficiency and lack of independence; lengthy pretrial detention”) to Venezuela (“widespread criminal kidnappings for ransom; prison uprisings resulting from harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; corruption and impunity in police forces; a corrupt, inefficient, and politicized judicial system characterized by trial delays and violations of due process”).
    The United States is not covered in the report, of course.


  6. Dirk says:

    You’ve written about this before but on TPM there was a discussion suggesting that the reason for the possible shift of venue to military tribunals was a quid pro quo for Sen. Graham’s help in getting Gitmo closed.
    Of course the offer was ridiculous in its one-sidedness, but still, that suggests a plausible reason for the administration pausing to consider the offer in another misguided attempt at bipartisanship.
    I don’t know which way the administration will go, but I suspect they will stay in civilian court, but outside of NYC.


  7. Don Bacon says:

    “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” — Barack Obama / Foreign Affairs, July-August 2007
    “The American people weren’t just failed by a President – they were failed by much of Washington. By a media that too often reported spin instead of facts. . .I will always tell the American people the truth.”–Barack Obama, Oct 2008
    “The military commissions have been maintained. The policy of renditions has been maintained. The idea of holding people indefinitely under the laws of war and without trials has been maintained.”– John Bellinger III, March 2010


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