The post- Hamdan debate involves some long-standing divisions within the administration over anti-terrorism policy. On one side are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her advisers, who believe that Guantanamo has become a dangerous rallying point for anti-Americanism. On the other are conservative administration lawyers, led by Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, who worry that any attempt to involve Congress or international lawyers in writing new rules would produce an unworkable legal mess that would endanger U.S. security. In the middle, seeking to resolve the issue over the next several weeks, are Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and Joshua Bolten, the new White House chief of staff.
Bush's comments about closing Guantanamo suggest that he wants to turn a page. But as sometimes happens with this administration, the debate isn't over until it's over -- and even then it isn't over. That was the case with the McCain amendment banning harsh interrogation. The president signed the law and then appended a signing statement saying that his executive power wasn't bound by such limits, then made a public statement indicating that despite the signing statement, he would follow the law. Confused? So is the CIA, which is said to have stopped interrogating terrorist suspects altogether until the rules are clarified.
The Sept. 11 commission's recommendation noted that stateless terrorists were outside the normal rules of law and suggested, "New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict." Champions of this approach include Rice's counselor, Philip Zelikow, who was previously staff director of the Sept. 11 commission, and State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III...
The Hamdan decision has opened a path toward the kind of global consensus about anti-terrorism policies that the Sept. 11 commission envisioned. This is a rare moment to begin fixing something that has gone dangerously wrong. After Hamdan , Bush has a chance to take a decisive step back toward an international rule of law -- and to solve America's biggest image problem at the same time.