Obama’s war on terror may resemble Bush’s

Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W Bush’s “war on terrorism...

Written by New York Times | Washington | Published: February 19, 2009 2:59 am

Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W Bush’s “war on terrorism”,the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting al-Qaeda.

In confirmation testimony recently,Obama nominees endorsed continuing the CIA’s programme of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights,and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former CIA detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

Earlier this month,after a British court cited pressure by the US in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in US custody,the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British Government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information”.

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared,prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups.

In an interview,White House counsel Gregory B Craig asserted that the administration was not embracing Bush’s approach to the world. But Craig also said President Barack Obama intended to avoid any “shoot from the hip” and “bumper sticker slogans” approaches to deciding what to do with the counter-terrorism policies he inherited.

Within days of his inauguration,Obama thrilled civil liberties groups when he issued executive orders promising less secrecy,restricting CIA interrogators to Army Field Manual techniques,shuttering the agency’s secret prisons,ordering the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed within a year and halting military commission trials. But in more recent weeks,things have become murkier.

During her confirmation hearing last week,Elena Kagan,the nominee for solicitor-general,said that someone suspected of helping finance al-Qaeda should be subject to indefinite detention without a trial even if he is not captured in a physical battle zone.

Nominee for CIA director Leon F Panetta,at his hearing,said that if the approved techniques were “not sufficient” to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack,he would ask Obama for “additional authority”.

Panetta emphasised that the President could not bypass anti-torture statutes,as Bush administration lawyers claimed. And he said that waterboarding is torture. Panetta said the CIA would be likely to continue to transfer detainees to third countries and would rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment — the same safeguard the Bush administration used,and that critics say is ineffective.

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