Phillip Carter helped found Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America after a tour of duty advising the Iraqi police in Baqubah. He wrote amicus briefs in two Supreme Court cases, FAIR v. Rumsfeld and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, where the Court reined in the Bush Administration’s executive over-reach, and became a leading critic of their methods in the war on terror. When he was hired by the Defense Department in April to coordinate detainee policy and help with the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, civil liberties groups considered that the Obama Administration was moving in the right direction.

He abruptly resigned late last week:

A key official in the Obama administration’s effort to remake detention policy and close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay has resigned.

Phillip Carter, who was appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy in April, said in a brief telephone interview that he was leaving for “personal and family reasons” and not because of any policy differences with the administration. He tendered his resignation Friday, Pentagon officials said.

Carter, a lawyer and Iraq war veteran, was responsible for coordinating global policy on detainees.

“Family reasons” is a common excuse, and we’ll never know the real reasons for the resignation.

But this comes on the heels of the ouster of Gregory Craig as White House counsel, who was involved in the same area of policy, around Guantanamo and detainees. And his resignation has since led to informed speculation about the Administration’s troublesome record on civil liberties. Time Magazine’s long report about Craig’s tenure is a must-read to understand the dynamic:

Interviews with two dozen current and former officials show that Obama’s public decision to reverse himself and fight the release of the [torture] photographs signaled a behind-the-scenes turning point in his young presidency. Beginning in the first two weeks of May, Obama took harder lines on government secrecy, on the fate of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and on the prosecution of terrorists worldwide. The President was moving away from some promises he had made during the campaign and toward more moderate positions, some favored by George W. Bush. At the same time, he quietly shifted responsibility for the legal framework for counterterrorism from Craig to political advisers overseen by Emanuel, who was more inclined to strike a balance between left and right.

The unseen struggle took place in the spring, but the results are emerging now. On Nov. 13, Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled plans to try Guantánamo Bay detainees in federal courts, as preferred by liberals, but he also announced he would try other suspected terrorists using extrajudicial proceedings out of Bush’s playbook. The Administration is preparing to unveil its blueprint for closing the prison, but Obama will do so using some of the same Bush-era legal tools he once deplored.

Outside of the connection between “moderate positions” and George Bush, this is insightful, as is the whole article. And if it’s correct, a shift away from the rhetoric on which Obama ran in the campaign, and toward the actions of his predecessor, would surely have weighed on someone who ran Veterans for Obama and was a chief critic of Bush’s detainee policies. Someone like Phillip Carter.

If that’s the case, then I don’t think we’ve heard the last of him…

UPDATE: More from Marcy Wheeler.

UPDATE II: Noah Shachtman talked to Carter and says that no, he really left for personal and family reasons.

I just got off the phone with Carter. “I know this is a Washington cliche, but sometimes the cliches are true,” he tells me. “I made this tough decision for personal reasons, even though I loved the job and the work we were doing. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to serve again.”