NYT Wakes Up To Obama’s Surprising Flexibility on the Rule of Law

Created: March 22, 2009 13:03 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Reading The New York Times’ lead editorial today feels a bit like reading a summary of much of what I’ve been writing for the past two months: that President Obama, despite his impressive pronouncements on closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and ending torture and unnecessary government secrecy, hasn’t changed the federal government’s positions in the major legal cases challenging Bush-era lawlessness.

I’m not trying to take any credit for The Times’ awakening on this issue, but I’m glad to see it is finally joining the party. As I’ve noted before (as did The Wall Street Journal), much of the mainstream media has been gingerly tip-toeing around these issues, making excuses for a new president who needs time to get his appointees in place and his policies on paper. But in the meantime, his Justice Department has been quietly pressing forward with some of the more controversial policies of the previous administration.

We’re talking about lawsuits over torture, warrantless wiretapping, state secrets and policies of extraordinary executive powers that allow the president to indefinitely detain suspected terror supporters abroad — and even here on U.S. soil.

Sure, the Obama administration announced it was withdrawing the use of the word “enemy combatant”, but as I’ve pointed out before, that’s more about semantics than substance. At the same time, the administration is asking the federal courts to stall their habeas corpus cases on the theory that the courts don’t have the authority to free these prisoners anyway.

I have to wonder if Obama — who, to be fair, has his hands full these days with the depressing economic legacy left him by the last administration — is being fully briefed on some of the more outrageous positions being taken in his name. If he’s not, he should be; after all, he’s the one who’s been saying that as president, he has to be able to take on more than one thing at a time.