The 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.”
ON THE SIMILARITY OF BUSH’ AND OBAMA’S TERROR POLICIES:
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.”
ON TRYING KSM ON A MILTARY BASE:
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.
— Steve Clemons