The American Civil Liberties Union has never treated the Obama administration with kid gloves, but with their latest ad buy it's become increasingly clear that their patience for the continuance of some Bush-era policies has run quite thin.
"What will it be Mr. President?" the ACLU asks in a full-page New York Times advertisement published Sunday. "Change or more of the Same?" The ad also features a portrait of Obama that morphs into Bush.
The ACLU's images of the subtle transition between presidents is filtered and lacking in detail, and spans just four frames. However, it appears to be a take-off of a protest image that circulated Facebook and some progressive blogs late last year, showing a similar transition in eerie detail.
The ACLU's full-size advertisement is below this text.
The ad specifically pressured the administration to hold fast to their decision to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in the judicial system and not by military tribunal as many Obama opponents have called for.
President Barack Obama's administration had announced it would try self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused at a New York courthouse, just steps from where the World Trade Center once stood.
But the plan for the "trial of the century" met a backlash from Republican lawmakers who have introduced legislation to require a military trial, throwing a challenge to Obama months ahead of mid-term elections in November.
Obama made bringing Sheikh Mohammed to a civilian trial a centerpiece of a broader plan to end what he saw as serious abuses of law in the time of his predecessor George W. Bush and his powerful vice president Dick Cheney.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that aides were recommending that Obama adopt Republicans' position and proceed with a military trial as part of a deal that could help him shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison.
A White House official said Friday it would need weeks to decide on the trial of the accused 9/11 co-conspirators.
"As president, Barack Obama must decide whether he will keep his solemn promise to restore our Constitution and due process, or ignore his vow and continue the Bush-Cheney policies," the ACLU ad read.
ACLU executive director Anthony Romero also wrote a letter to Obama saying these were "the most important terrorism trials -- and arguably the most important criminal trials -- in the entire history of the nation.
"We placed this ad because it’s critical that Americans know what is at stake here: nothing less than America’s commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law. The military commissions are seriously flawed and unprepared to handle these complex cases. If President Obama reverses his attorney general’s principled decision under political pressure, it will strike a devastating blow to American values and do serious damage to our nation’s credibility. We urge the president to do the right thing and keep these cases in federal court, where they belong."
"It would be a colossal mistake to reverse the administration's decision to try these defendants in federal criminal court and again relegate these landmark trials to irretrievably defective military commissions."
However the plan has seen growing opposition from groups criticizing the cost of security in Manhattan and in some cases the principle of providing civilian trials with greater protections for the alleged 9/11 plotters.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed his mind at the end of January after initially backing the civilian trial in Manhattan, suggesting that the highly sensitive case could instead proceed on a military base.
In its ad, the ACLU noted that the US criminal justice system has "successfully handled" more than 300 terror-related cases, compared to only three by military commission.