- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

Ever since news of detainee mistreatment at Abu Ghraib became public knowledge in the spring of 2004, Democrats have routinely denounced the Bush administration’s approach to fighting terrorism, including the use of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a terrorist detention facility and the use of foreign-based prisons to hold assumed terrorists. But, with President Obama in the White House, the critics are learning that the old anti-Bush talking points don’t make so much sense in the real world — especially now that a Democrat is commander in chief, with the responsibility of protecting 300 million Americans from attack.

Eli Lake of The Washington Times reported Wednesday that the president’s executive order issued last week closing CIA “black sites” contains a little-noticed exception that allows the agency to operate temporary detention facilities abroad. The exception is just the latest evidence that the new administration, while eager to announce that it is ending many aspects of President Bush’s “war on terror,” is leaving itself room to continue some of its predecessor’s practices in handling terrorist suspects. In the short term at least, Mr. Obama’s relatively pragmatic handling of black sites seems to have created some fissures on the political left. Ken Gude at the Center for American Progress (CAP) said the facilities Mr. Obama hoped to keep open were not prisons but “temporary holding facilities that the CIA has used in the past for decades” - and therefore distinct from the black sites used by the Bush administration.

Naturally, the explanations from Mr. Gude and the Obama administration did not pass muster with the misnamed American Civil Liberties Union (Foreign Terrorist Assistance Union is more apropos in this case). Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, declared flatly: “Our position is that the CIA should have no detention authority … If President Obama has taken the CIA out of the prison business, he should also take the CIA out of the short-term jailer business.” Well, get over it.

So long as President Obama adopts what might be called a “Bush-lite” approach to some aspects of the war on terror, there is likely to be more conflict between ACLU absolutists and more sober-minded supporters of the president. While the two sides are both too far out in left field on this issue to suit us, at least Mr. Obama is on the playing field, unlike the Foreign Terrorist Assistance Union types.

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