Rahm Emanuel Used to Be Against Indefinite Detention, Holder Still Believes In Civilan Trials

March 17, 2010  |  Posted by Danielle Belton

It's politics versus principle. On one hand you have White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel searching for a political compromise on Guantanamo Bay because he sees the debate as a liability and in the way of more important issues. On the other you have Attorney General Eric Holder holding fast to his belief in the rule of law, wanting to push back on the failed national security polices of the Bush-Cheney administration and focus on the tools we have that work -- our justice system. Holder is not only concerned about upholding principle, he knows that criminal trials are the right thing to do. Our courts have more experience prosecuting terrorism suspects. They have a track record that has lead to the convictions of more than 300 terrorists since 2001. So it's not just the most sound constitutional decision, but it's the right decision. Yet what is right on principle won't always work politically -- or at least that what Emanuel seems to believe now.

When he was in Congress, though, he didn't feel that way. He was against detention without charge and he wanted to close Gitmo. He was passionate about those issues. Where did that passion go and lead to political cynicism?

Firedoglake's Marcy Wheeler recently published an excerpt from a letter by Congressman Norm Dicks from 2007 where he called for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and an end to holding prisoners without charge or trial. Among those signed on to the letter is current White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel.

From Rep. Dicks' letter:

Since the time that captured “enemy combatants” were first brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, the detainment facility has undermined America’s image as the model of justice and protector of human rights around the world. Holding prisoners for an indefinite period of time, without charging them with a crime goes against our values, ideals and principles as a nation governed by the rule of law. Further, Guantanamo Bay has become a liability in the broader global war on terror, as allegations of torture, the indefinite detention of innocent men, and international objections to the treatment of enemy combatants has hurt our credibility as the beacon for freedom and justice. Its continued operation also threatens the safety of U.S. citizens and military personnel detained abroad.

While for the closure of the prison and ending Bush-Cheney era policies then, Rahm Emanuel seems up for taking a much more political approach now. He's even taken to calling Guantanamo "a waste" of political capital as it is a "second-tier" issue. Guantanamo isn't an actual problem to Emanuel, but "politically" it causes problems for the President, so he believes it should be avoided. That is a travesty.

Wheeler, in her post, wonders:

What changed between the time when Rahm recognized how unacceptable indefinite detention is and his willingness now, in cahoots with Lindsey Graham, to set up a system of indefinite detention? Heck, this Rahm has even called closing Gitmo a distraction.

Would I be foolish to ask for that other Rahm back?

Where did that Emanuel go? In a recent story in New York Times Magazine by Peter Baker, Baker describes a "pragmatic" Emanuel working the political tract to get things done. That it's not about what's right or ideology or reversing past Bush-Cheney era policies. It's about politics. About winning and losing. And Emanuel has demonstrated he is all about compromising principle in the hopes of winning on politics.

From New York Times Magazine:

He has been leery of or has resisted the most aggressive efforts to overturn Bush-era national-security policies, like closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, investigating C.I.A. officers accused of abusing detainees and taking Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to New York to try him in a civilian court for masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks. The issues pitted him against Attorney General Eric Holder and the White House counsel, Greg Craig, and eventually Craig resigned. Emanuel is not particularly vested in the substantive merits or drawbacks of the specific plans. He sees them as politically problematic, wasting scarce capital and provoking unnecessary fights on what he regards as second-tier issues that distract from higher priorities.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Attorney General Eric Holder, still arguing for U.S. criminal trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Holder has been under blistering attack ever since he announced the decision to hold stateside trials for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other other Gitmo detainees. Right now, right wingers are attacking Holder for an amicus brief he was part of in 2004 that questioned former President Bush's authority to hold people, indefinitely, without charge. ABC's Jake Tapper described this as " the latest attack by members of the Bush administration against current officials of the Obama Justice Department, in which the values and judgments of current Justice Department officials are questioned and assailed as inadequate if not somehow collusion with terrorists."

Despite the attacks and the accusations from groups like Liz Cheney's "Keep America Safe" that by questioning the then President's authority, Holder is some kind of "terrorist sympathizer," the Attorney General went before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he was again attacked by Republican members who were pushing their own political agenda for keeping Guantanamo open and using unconstitutional military commission trials. They attempted to trap him in ridiculous arguments. ("Osama bin Laden, in your opinion, has the same rights as Charles Manson?" said Rep. John Culberson of Texas. Holder replied that he thought Mason and Bin Laden actually had a lot in common being "mass murderers.") And they focused on hypotheticals. Holder, though, held fast to his principles.

During testimony Holder said, "They are tested ... they are secure, we have tried these cases in a safe manner," Holder told a House Appropriations subcommittee. "Our allies around the world support us in bringing these cases in (criminal) courts."

Holder is right. Emanuel is wrong. But they used to be on the same side. Let's hope that political expediency doesn't permanently reinforce the failed policies of the past.

Share |
blog comments powered by Disqus
My Zimbio