In May 2009, President Barack Obama proclaimed at the U.S. Naval Academy, "As Americans, we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals."
That was the Obama who signed an order to close the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay and hold civilian trials for such swells as self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
I prefer the current Obama, who kept Gitmo open and gave up on prosecuting Mohammed and company in New York. This is the president who authorized the use of military force that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Note: The use of U.S. military drones meant that al-Awlaki -- an American citizen who has been linked to the 2009 Christmas Day attempted airline bombing and the Fort Hood shootings that left 13 dead -- would not have a last-minute chance to surrender and have his day in a U.S. court.
This President Obama increasingly mirrors his much-maligned predecessor, George W. Bush. On Sunday, The New York Times reported on a secret U.S. memo drafted by attorneys of the Obama administration's Office of Legal Counsel in 2009 that authorized the killing of al-Awlaki in Yemen.
Obamaland has paid such tribute to transparency that in 2009, the administration released Bush-era memos on enhanced interrogation techniques. Yet the Obama White House has failed to make its own snuff memo public. The Times story is based on a leak.
That Times story must have felt like deja vu all over again to University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo. While serving in the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo wrote memos that authorized the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques to thwart planned terrorist attacks. "I'm glad they're hypocrites," Yoo told me Monday.
It's better for national security.
Now, I agree with the Obama Office of Legal Counsel's conclusion that in the war against al-Qaida, the military has the legal authority to fire at the enemy. But there is a bit of a logic problem for Obama. Apparently, it's OK to blow up an accused terrorist, just as long as the CIA doesn't waterboard him first.
Given this administration's treatment of officials who crafted or carried out Bush policies, I find it amazing that Obama found attorneys willing to support killing a wartime enemy. Those lawyers may be repaid for their service with a lifetime of bothersome litigation.
Last year, in the name of al-Awlaki's family, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit that challenged the administration's (still secret) "targeted killings" doctrine. A federal court in Washington dismissed the case, but al-Awlaki's death sows new opportunities in friendlier forums.
In 2007, al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla was convicted of "conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country" and "material support for terrorism." From his prison cell, Padilla has filed lawsuits against a number of federal officials, including Yoo.
Obama's Department of Justice dropped its representation of two other Bush soldiers, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Attorney General Eric Holder renewed closed investigations into CIA interrogations. This administration has set a standard for harsh litigation techniques imposed on a previous administration's policy warriors. I hope Obama's lawyers are spared this fate. In this field, this president takes no prisoners.