On Monday, implicitly conceding that the prison at Guantanamo Bay won't be closing anytime in the forseeable future, President Obama issued an executive order that allows military tribunals there to hear new cases and authorizes the continued indefinite detention of the remaining 172 prisoners. Under the new order, a six-member Periodic Review Board will determine whether a prisoner's continued detention "is necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States." Each detainee will get his initial review within a year and additional reviews every third year thereafter. The process, which includes a a "Government-provided personal representative" charged with rebutting the government's case, seems quite similar to the reviews conducted during the Bush administration, most crucially in that it tasks the executive branch with approving its own decisions. The New York Times cites a law professor who is "pleased" that "the review panels would include representatives from the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security as well as Defense and the director of national intelligence."
The new executive order adds to the pile of evidence that Obama, despite his hope-arousing campaign talk about respecting civil liberties and the rule of law, is continuing his predecessor's anti-terrorism policies in almost all important respects. The best that can be said of his latest decision is that it applies only to current Guantanamo detainees (as opposed to terrorism suspects arrested in the future) and does not involve new legislation that would further institutionalize preventive detention for certain kinds of criminal suspects by reclassifying them as prisoners of a never-ending war.