Saturday, June 21, 2008

LAWYERS TRIED TO WARN WHITE HOUSE ABOUT GITMO POLICIES

MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ WASHINGTON POST Senior lawyers inside and outside the Bush administration repeatedly warned the White House that it was risking judicial scrutiny of its detention policies in Guantanamo Bay if it did not pursue a more pragmatic legal strategy that considered the likely reaction of the Supreme Court. But such advice, issued periodically over the past six years, was ignored or discounted, according to current and former administration officials familiar with the debates.

In August 2006, for example, the top lawyer at the State Department told senior officials at the White House that unless they won a congressional mandate that broadly supported their system of detaining terrorism suspects, their goal of keeping the detainees locked up was in jeopardy. "I can virtually guarantee you, without a legislative basis, federal courts are not going to be willing to uphold the indefinite detention of unlawful combatants," John B. Bellinger III warned in an e-mail. . .

"Through misjudgment and overreaching, the White House ended up with the very result it sought to avoid -- heavy judicial involvement and erosion of deference to the president's view of wartime necessities," said Matthew Waxman, who worked on detainee affairs at the State Department and the Pentagon before leaving last fall to teach law at Columbia University.

"The administration pursued the policy course it wanted," said former State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, who was involved in some of the debates over detainee policy. "It planned for the best instead of preparing for the worst, and decided that it would prefer to fight for what it wanted."

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