07 Jan 2010

Glenn Greenwald Points Out (Some) Progressives’ Hypocrisy on Obama vs. Bush

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Another great post by GG, this time on Obama’s apologists explaining that there will be a trial for the underwear bomber because “we live under the rule of law.” Here’s GG:

So in order to justify giving a civilian trial to AbdulMutallab, [Obama terrorism advisor] John Brennan cites the fact that we are “a nation of laws.” Progressives defending the decision to treat AbdulMutallab as a civilian criminal are similarly invoking “the rule of law.” The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen, for instance, cites The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer to argue that “‘it’s really remarkable that we’ve gotten to a point in American history where the Republican Party has managed to make fair trials for people who commit crimes ‘controversial'” and adds: “that Brennan has to mount a ‘defense’ for following the rule of law, the same exact way the Bush administration did, suggests just how far the discourse has strayed from reality.”

Benen is right that the Obama administration is essentially doing what the Bush administration did with regard to terrorism suspects, but what does that have to do with “the rule of law”? How can anyone possibly argue simultaneously that (a) the “rule of law” requires civilian trials and (b) the Obama administration is following the “rule of law,” when: (c) the Obama administration is explicitly denying civilian trials to numerous terrorism suspects whenever it feels like doing so? If someone actually believes that “the rule of law” requires civilian trials for terrorism suspects, then it cannot be rationally argued that the Obama administration is upholding the “rule of law,” since providing civilian trials — which the “rule of law” supposedly requires — is a policy they are explicitly rejecting.

If the “rule of law” only requires a trial when the State is absolutely certain it can convict someone because it has “plenty of evidence against them” — and then allows the use of military commissions or indefinite detention when the evidence is weak — then “the rule of law” is a ludicrous joke. Criminally charging people only when you know in advance you can win — and imprisoning the rest without the benefit of criminal charges — is a sham system of show trials that is the opposite of “the rule of law.”

It is perfectly fair and accurate to point out that Cheneyite Republicans are being partisan hypocrites for attacking the Obama DOJ for doing exactly that which the Bush administration did: namely, trying some terrorism suspects in civilian courts and holding the rest without trials. But what about progressives who spent eight years accusing the Bush administration of “shredding the Constitution” and gravely assaulting our political system as a result of its detention policy, yet who are now venerating the Obama administration as “upholding the rule of law” even as they deny trials to scores of detainees?

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