Obama & Gitmo


Like most people I have a little “I told you so” reflex that I have to keep under wraps on occasion. But whenever I make a prediction, particularly a political one that comes to pass, I have to crow just a little bit.
The Oval Office chair was still warm from George W. Bush when the recently inaugurated President Obama signed an Executive Order closing the detention center at our Navel base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which housed over 700 terrorist suspects. It was done amidst a lot of hoopla, flashing cameras, and a proclamation from the president that it was being done to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.” He stated that the facility would close by Jan 2010.

Sounds noble right?

And it was, but not very realistic or well thought out. Indeed, my first thought was, “OK, so where are they going to put all the prisoners?” I knew even as Obama was smiling there was no way Gitmo was going to be closed in a year. And now CNN reports that the Obama administration ackowledges that the deadline might not be reached.

Lets face it, if you are fighting a “War on Terror” your’re going to have terror suspects. I don’t know about you but sticking them in a detention facility at a U.S. Navel base 90 miles off America’s shores seems like a pretty good idea to me.

Of course, if you don’t keep them there, you have to keep them somewhere. The first suggestion was maximum security prisons in America, but the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) voices came (ironically often from Congressmen who were arguing for the closure of Gitmo) saying that housing terrorists on U.S. soil was to dangerous.

So the Obama Administration turned to other countries. “Hey, we’re closing that nasty legal cesspool created by that evil predecessor of mine, but we need to put some guys in your countries for awhile…’K?

And the response was mostly “Mmmmm…No thanks” (except for some countries that reportedly received cash and other political concessions for doing so). Why else would the mostly Roman Catholic south Pacific Island of Palau offer to take some?

First of all, I support the President in bringing better legal accountability into the process. We are a nation of law, and if people’s civil rights and due process are being violated, I fully support inquiries and policy enforcement to correct those wrongs.

But if a local prison has reports of abuse, the action to take is to stop the abuse, not close down the prison. The answer to Gitmo is to fix Gitmo not close Gitmo.

However, the President has already smiled and taken his photo op. Gitmo will eventually be closed.

But there is a reason Gitmo exists. Arguably some suspects were found to be innocent…others were not. And some of those thought to be innocent turned out to be terrorists after all. CNN reported earlier this year that 18 released Gitmo detainees have been directly involved with terrorist activities upon their release and another 43 are suspected to have including Adballah Salih al-Ajmi, who blew himself up in a suicide attack in Iraq after leaving US custody.

Obama is essentially betting that one of the detainees released to third party countries will not be involved in a direct attack on U.S. forces, or even worse, an attack on the U.S. homeland in the future.

That is a scenario that would haunt him the rest of his days and I just hope he wins his bet.

4 comments

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  • “The answer to Gitmo is to fix Gitmo not close Gitmo.”

    Absolutely…. I was disappointed with this maneuver because it looked like a political stunt, rather than a reasoned decision.

  • Renee Benner

    Reply

    I love your blog Steve, but I have to disagree with you on this issue! I say close Gitmo!

    From the beginning, using the place to hold so-called “prisoners of war” to circumvent our laws (i.e. holding people in detention for an indefinite period without trial) was pushing the Constitution beyond its limits. The fact that it’s an off-shore military base, where these people can’t get any kind of adequate legal representation just confirms the underhanded nature of the whole operation. We claim that we’re protecting our way of life, but how important and enlightened are our rights and way of life if we don’t extend them to anyone but ourselves.

    Gitmo may create more terrorists and amplifies the hatred and hostility towards the USA already felt by people in the Middle East and beyond. Fixing it is a nice idea, but even with a complete overhaul, the stain on our national reputation can’t be that easily removed. If the USA wants to hold terrorists, then do it on continental US soil. But they need to hold legitimate trials – or send detainees back to their own countries for trial. Saddam Hussein was put on trial in Iraq – somewhat successfully too. The USA wants to have its fingers in everyone else’s piece of pie, but we can’t always be the “Democracy Gestapo.”

  • Renee,

    I agree with you that if we don’t hold them at Gitmo we should have them in the U.S. Seems to me if we can keep serial rapists and murderers in our prisons, we can keep a few hundred fanatics.

    Saddam was tried in Iraq because hie crimes were against the Iraqi people. People whose crimes are against the U.S. need to be tried by the U.S.

    I always thought the argument that Gitmo served as a recruitment mantle piece for terrorist wannabees was a bit of a stretch.

    I stick with my original premise, there is no reason that due process can not be aceived on a military base.

    But, don’t worry, Gitmo will close. Not because it should, but because it was a good photo op for the Prez.

  • So true that it was a political maneuver. Obama campaigned on such platforms as this, though, and now, as you correctly point out, he has to fulfill the photo op. Just hope he’s not compromising national security in the process.

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