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The Wall Street Journal Hearts Obama

You know something’s fundamentally changed when The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn — a former Bush speechwriter, now chief editorial writer for the paper — is calling the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where the United States is holding some 600 prisoners indefinitely without charge “Obama’s Gitmo.”

Sure, critics have been calling it that for a while, pointing out that the prison there offers even fewer rights than Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoyed and it was created as a legal black hole to avoid the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. But a senior Wall Street Journal editorial writer?

Then again, McGurn means this as praise for President Obama. Despite his lofty rhetoric excoriating the Bush administration for denying rights to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, McGurn writes, Obama has finally come around to seeing the world as it really is. As president, Obama is finding out that “this very much is a new world, that we do face a new enemy, and that the problems posed by Guantanamo have less to do with the place than the people we detain there.”

Put simply, “the U.S. needs the ability to detain people we know to be dangerous without the evidence that might stand up in a federal criminal court” and to do so indefinitely because “we can’t say when the war will end.” (But how can “we know” them to be dangerous if the evidence isn’t even reliable enough to stand up in court.)

President Obama is “smart enough to know that the relative obscurity of Bagram” enables him to hold people there without “worrying too much that he will be called to account for a substantive about-face,” McGurn writes.

But is that true?

McGurn opens his editorial with a quote from the venerable White House reporter Helen Thomas asking Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs why the president is “blocking habeas corpus from prisoners at Bagram” after so staunchly defending the Gitmo prisoners’ rights to challenge their detentions when Obama was a U.S. Senator. As McGurn points out, citing Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, Obama doesn’t have a principled reason for the distinction.

While McGurn is pleased by this contradiction, I’m not convinced that Obama’s supporters — not to mention human rights advocates — in the United States and around the world will be so willing to let it go.

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