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Political palooka: Obama gags on Gitmo question

By Daniel Clark
web posted June 30, 2008

The Harder They Fall
Scene from The Harder They Fall

The handling of Barack Obama calls to mind a movie called The Harder They Fall, in which Humphrey Bogart played a boxing promoter whose client was a heavyweight named Toro Moreno. Bogey learned early on that Toro couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag, but that didn't stop him from guiding the palooka to a shot at the world title.

Likewise, the Democrats, and therefore the news media, declared Obama to be a future presidential nominee at the 2004 convention, despite the fact that he was only a state senator at the time. Like the chiseled Toro, Obama is superficially impressive, but he simply doesn't have the tools to back up his image.

Lately, the presumptive Democrat candidate has demonstrated his unfitness for high office on a daily basis, through statements that betray his failure to think seriously about serious matters. One of the more egregious examples came in praise of the Supreme Court's decision, in Boumediene v. Bush, to extend habeas corpus rights to enemy combatants captured on foreign soil.

Obama likened the prospect of terrorists in American courtrooms to the Nuremberg trials, lecturing that we even gave the Nazis their "day in court." This illustration holds true only in stick-figure form, in that each situation involves putting our wartime enemies on trial. Once even the tiniest amount of detail is added, it creates two dramatically contrasting pictures.

For starters, the Nuremberg trials did not commence until after the war had ended. In fact, the legal underpinning of those proceedings was the power that had been ceded to the Allies as a result of Germany's unconditional surrender. There were no concerns about the defendants returning to the battlefield to kill Americans and our allies.

While it's literally true that the Nazis had their "day in court," that doesn't mean they had what Americans would recognize as a fair trial. Those hearings were held not to determine whether the Germans were guilty, but only to demonstrate their already understood guilt to the rest of the world. Not only weren't the defendants allowed a presumption of innocence, but they were forbidden from making some of the most persuasive arguments in their defense, including the objection that they were being tried under ex post facto law.

The Nazis were not subject to American civilian courts. Their trials were held in their own country, under a newly created legal paradigm. If our current war has any fitting parallel to Nuremberg, it is the conviction and execution of Saddam Hussein, but you don't see Obama holding that up as a model of justice.

Just imagine what the five liberal members of the Court might have done if they'd heard an appeal from Goering, Hess, Jodl and company. Obviously not deterred by the fact that the Constitution gives them no say in the matter, they would have invented a justification to overturn Nuremberg before you could say "penumbra."

After our German enemies received their "day in court," 22 of them were swiftly executed. Ten of these had been sentenced by the International Military Tribunal, which had been convened cooperatively among the Allied powers. The other 12 were sentenced in subsequent trials held in the same courtrooms, by United States military tribunals.

Surely, Obama does not want to subject our terrorist detainees to a similar process. As for the liberal Supreme Court majority, they would undoubtedly find that "evolving standards of decency" dictate a different outcome. Justice Stephen Breyer – who proudly admits to basing some decisions on foreign precedent – might even champion the "just following orders" defense, based on past rulings from within the Third Reich itself.

For all of the senator's flowery rhetoric, the thought processes that underlie it are really quite crude. He must have known for hours that he'd be asked about the Boumediene decision, and still his analysis never developed beyond the liberal basics (Nazis bad, Nuremberg good; terrorists not so bad, Gitmo not so good).

If Obama doesn't meet the same fate as Toro, it's only due to the lack of a formidable opponent. Still, this would only delay the inevitable. He will be in no condition to tangle with Congress, to say nothing of our foreign enemies, until he has at least proven himself capable of reasonably answering a question he should have anticipated. If that day doesn't arrive in a hurry, the American people should thank him to stay within the cozy confines of his wet paper bag, and out of the Oval Office. ESR

Daniel Clark is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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