Less Than a Week in Office, Trump May Erase Obama’s Real “Progress” in War on Terror

Today, New York Times journalist Charlie Savage published a three-page draft of an executive order that President Trump is preparing to sign. In short, the draft order would undo many of the actual reforms to the war on terror implemented by the Obama administration. (I say “actual” because many national security observers give Obama too much credit and ignore the fact that he, as a former constitutional law professor and Democrat, institutionalized the global war on terror, making the US’s perpetual war footing much more difficult to end.)

Trump’s draft order, if signed, would:

  • revoke Executive Order 13491 (January 22, 2009), which ended the Bush’s administration’s practice of torture, subjected interrogation methods to the rules outlined in the Army Field Manual, ordered the closure of the CIA’s notorious “black sites” where countless individuals were tortured and deprived of basic rights, and granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees;
  • revoke Executive Order 13492 (January 22, 2009), which ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay (and served as the Obama administration’s source for not sending any new detainees to the facility in Cuba) and ordered a status review of all Guantanamo detainees;
  • consider the conditions at Guantanamo Bay to be “legal, safe, and humane” and “consistent with international conventions regarding the laws of war”;
  • declare that Guantanamo Bay is “in the interests of the United States… as a critical tool in the fight against international jihadist terrorist radical Islamic groups”;
  • affirm the Bush-Obama doctrine that the United States is engaged in a borderless war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, “associated forces,” and “those who fight on behalf of or provide substantial support [an Obama term; emphasis mine] to or harbor such groups”;
  • embrace the “enemy combatant” term created by Bush’s lawyers (and abandoned by Obama’s) to justify indefinite detention;
  • allow the US government to send “newly captured alien enemy combatants” to Guantanamo;
  • suspend any existing efforts to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo until the Trump administration conducts its own review to determine if the transfers are “in the national security interests of the United States”;
  • review the interrogation procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual and authorize Secretary of Defense James Mattis to modify and add to these stipulations;
  • allow CIA to reopen its notorious “black sites” where countless individuals were tortured and deprived of basic rights;
  • resurrect Executive Order 13440 (July 20, 2007), which allowed CIA to resume some of its torture methods not specifically listed as legitimate war crimes after a 2006 Supreme Court case made CIA torturers eligible for war crime prosecutions and thus temporarily put the program on hiatus;
  • consider preferring the use of military commissions to civilian courts in terrorism cases; and
  • make the Trump administration’s chosen term for the global war on terror the “fight against radical Islamism.”

Whether or not all of these policy pledges will turn into actual policy is to be determined. But what’s significant in the draft order – what the draft order reveals – is Trump’s more-than-rhetorical willingness to resurrect some of the most egregious policies of the Bush administration, only some of which Obama did away with, to his credit. 

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