Nearly two weeks after Pres-elect Obama picked his national security team, most of the press and even some on the right are praising him for his prudent selections. I must admit that the moderation and experience of his team are reassuring to those who listened to him on the campaign trail often pander to the peacenik Left. So similar to his economic team selections, Obama has delivered on form.
Unfortunately, this is right on target with the prediction during the campaign that the Right can expect some good people (form) on Obama’s team but it should not hold its breath for friendly policy (substance). Putting aside the interesting and perhaps prescient talk of a clash of personalities in Obama’s cabinet, there are lots of important national security policies that could directly affect our immunity from an attack on U.S. soil. This threat might require Obama to “give” some substance to the Right.
Stuart Taylor of the National Journal does a good job laying out a few of these policies in his recent article “Balancing Security and Liberty,” where he calls for prudence to carry the day when making these national security decisions, such as on interrogation methods, wire tapping, POWs, etc.:
“This prospect [of a nuclear detonation in a major city] puts into perspective the efforts of many human-rights activists, Obama supporters, and journalists to weaken essentially all of the government’s most important tools for disabling terrorists before they can strike…
Indeed, the prospect of anyone in the U.S. being inappropriately wiretapped, surveilled, or data-mined seems to stir the viscera of many Bush critics more than the prospect of thousands of people being murdered by terrorists. This despite the paucity of evidence that any innocent person anywhere has been seriously harmed in recent decades by governmental abuse of wiretapping, surveillance, or data mining. On these and similar issues, Obama will have a choice: He can give the Left what it wants and weaken our defenses. Or he can follow the advice of his more prudent advisers, recognize that Congress, the courts, and officials including Attorney General Michael Mukasey have already moved to end the worst Bush administration abuses.
[O]ur way of life may well depend on catching nuclear or biological terrorists before they can strike. And the only way to catch them is through aggressive use of wiretaps, data mining, searches, seizures, other forms of surveillance, detention, interrogation, subpoenas, informants, and, sometimes, group-based profiling. Many of these powers and techniques are still tightly restricted by the web of legal restraints and media-driven cultural norms that were developed in sunnier times to protect civil liberties — and would be even more tightly restricted if civil libertarians had their way. I sketch below how Obama should strike the liberty-security balance in three areas…
• Wiretapping and data mining:…Obama, a harsh critic of Bush’s secret, unilateral defiance of FISA’s rules from 2001 through 2005, wisely broke with most liberals by voting in July to relax those rules. He should propose a complete overhaul and simplification of the almost incomprehensibly complicated law. It should be easier to use sophisticated computer data-mining programs to fish through millions of calls and e-mails for signs of possible terrorist activity. At the same time, privacy protections should be improved by tightening the rules to detect (through use of audit trails) and prevent unnecessary dissemination or retention of the intercepted information and to punish severely any misuse of it. An additional privacy protection, suggested by Posner, would be to forbid use of this information for any purpose (including, say, tax fraud prosecutions) other than to protect national security.
• Detainees: Obama should keep his promise to close the Guantanamo prison camp, within a year if possible, and should release as soon as possible and urge Congress to compensate all detainees who are found to be both nondangerous and nonprosecutable… But Obama should spurn the clamor to simply release any and all of the more than 240 remaining detainees who cannot be criminally convicted. Instead, he should establish a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to study all the available evidence on each detainee. Many may turn out to be both extremely dangerous and impossible to convict of crimes, as the military claims, because of strict rules of evidence and other obstacles. Obama should continue to detain that group, probably in U.S. lockups, while working with Congress to establish a new process to give these men every possible opportunity to challenge the factual and legal bases for their continued detention.
• Interrogation: Obama should promptly issue an executive order reinforcing the criminal ban on torturing detainees and imposing a general rule against harsh methods. He should also direct the Justice Department to revoke or revise any as-yet-unrevoked legal opinions taking an unduly narrow view of the anti-torture law. But for reasons discussed in my May 3 column, he should preserve the option of using coercive methods short of torture in especially urgent cases, if the attorney general personally approves. And he should ask himself: What would I want done if the CIA captures another terrorist mastermind such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is determined not to talk but whose secrets — if extracted — might well save many lives?…”