Many of you are aware that President Obama convened a meeting with civil liberties advocates on the issues of the Guantanamo closure, military commissions, etc. The meeting was convened specifically for the purposes of varying the input the President was getting on those issues, in particular, opinion from civil liberties advocates who've been critical of some of his decisions.
Here's Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show, reporting on the meeting:
I sat in on the meeting, and though the understanding was that the substance was off the record, the basics of what was discussed -- and some specifics about the discussion -- have obviously already been reported. The exchange was not unguarded, but I don't think there was any doubt left about where people stood, nor was there much shifting of the ground. As the President's speech this morning makes clear, he feels that the blight of Guantanamo needs to be erased, and the disposition of the status of the detainees needed to be brought as nearly into compliance with traditional practice as possible. But he was also firm in his insistence that there were certain detainees for whom trials in Article III courts were inadequate to the dual demands of justice and public safety. It was equally clear that this wasn't something on which he had universal agreement from the group. I think everyone knew that going in (and indeed, that was part of the purpose of the meeting), and it was still true when we left.
There's not much I'd feel compelled to add to what's already out there, though one thing that jumps out at me is that I don't know that I'd be able to agree with the assessment Isikoff passes on that the President spoke for the Attorney General and foreclosed the option of investigations, prosecutions or the like. The President ran the meeting, and it was his session. But I don't know that I'd agree that it was his intention to announce the foreclosure of any such options. It may ultimately be his actual intention, but it didn't appear to be his intention to declare it then and there -- a subtle difference perhaps, but that subtlety was pretty much characteristic of most of what he had to say. He took his time and approached the issues and his answers to our questions carefully. The absence of any comment from the Attorney General appeared to me to be more of an acknowledgment that it was the President who wanted to direct the discussion, and the White House staff and administration officials present weren't getting in the way of that.
On the whole, though, Isikoff appears to have gotten a entirely reasonable picture of the meeting, if not exactly the one I'd have given. On the substance, I'd say he gives you as good a run-down as we're likely to see on the air or in print.
My sense of it is that very little is likely to change from where we are now in terms of policy with respect to what the administration has inherited, but that the intention is to build a coherent legal framework for dealing with similar issues going forward (since there almost certainly will be new and more detainees in this ongoing fight) where the previous administration acted by executive fiat. That's good news by itself, but there's still much work to be done on these and other related issues, and a lot of areas of disagreement that require a fuller airing. I'm still concerned, for instance, that the Republican theory of executive power with respect to detainee policy -- something the President referred to as "anything goes" in his speech today -- is in fact the Republican theory of executive governance in general. That poses an extraordinarily broad array of difficulties, not the least of which is that it's an open an ongoing threat to the greater Obama agenda, which is itself often invoked as a reason for not dabbling in the "distraction" of "looking backward." But unless we can demarcate Cheneyism -- the "anything goes" philosophy as explicitly illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate, its continued existence (and threatened practice by future administrations) calls into question the value and durability of the whatever parts of the Obama agenda are ultimately implemented, on detainee policy or anything else.
That's a huge problem, though it clearly was beyond the intended scope of this meeting. But I'm hopeful that there will be more opportunities to discuss this broader context in the future.