Exactly one year has passed since President Obama declared he would close Guantanamo.
And today, The Washington Post reports that his Department of Justice Task Force will recommend “that nearly 50 of the 196 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war.” How long will we have to wait before human rights groups begin to call President Obama a war criminal? How long until those who called for President Bush’s indictment by an international tribunal make the same call?
Don’t hold your breath. Back in 2005 Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the Gulag of our times” equating the Bush administration to war criminals. Now, their tune has moderated –of course in their eyes it is still bad that Guantanamo remains open– but they’ve toned down their Gulag language and now we hear “people around the world who care about human rights and the rule of law will be extremely disheartened” by President Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo. Disheartened is probably an improvement from the dyspepsia which gripped most of these people during the Bush administration.
Not to be outdone in moderation, Anthony Romero of the ACLU blandly stated “There is no statutory regime in America that allows us to hold people without charge or trial indefinitely.” We’ve gone from allegations of war crimes, torture, and a disregard of the “rule of law” to a lack of a “statutory regime.” Talk about kid gloves. Now of course both groups are saying the same things about Guantanamo that they were saying under Bush (e.g. close it), but they sure have moderated their tone since the Bush administration. Human rights may be universal, but it seems the tone and temperament of human rights advocacy changes when a Democrat is in office.
Back to The Washington Post story. Perhaps the best quote in the piece is from an anonymous official (anytime President Obama breaks a promise, they send out Mr. Anonymous to break the news, and it’s always on a Friday), Mr. Anonymous stated:
“We’re still moving forward and in a much more deliberate and less haphazard manner than was the case before…all policies encounter reality, and it’s painful, but this one holds up better than most.”
That “haphazard manner” line sure sounds like a swipe at the Obama administration’s favorite target, George W. Bush. Of course the truly painful reality is that one couldn’t think of a more haphazard policy than President Obama’s declaration that he would close Guantanamo within a year. That decision was made on his second day in office without taking the time to evalaute the files and evidence supporting the detention of al Qaeda members held in Guantanamo. But perhaps I’m being unfair, the President did staff much of his administration with the attorneys representing the Guantanamo detainees, so who needs to read the intelligence files on these guys, all you need to know is “My client says he’s innocent.” That’s good enough for an executive order…but as President Obama is finding out, it may not be a reliable way to make national security policy.
Buried about halfway into The Washington Post story are these key nuggets. Not only has the Obama administration decided that 50 detainees should be held indefinitely, they’ve also declared that 30 Yemenis can be released —just as soon as al Qaeda is no longer active in Yemen. That fact brings the number of detainees who will be indefinitely detained up to 80, unless the Obama administration knows something about the sea change in Yemeni security which would need to take place before that country is free from al Qaeda.
Then there are 80 other detainees who are cleared for release to a third country. Of course that would require a third country willing to take them, and as we’ve seen most allies –despite flowing and apologetic speeches from President Obama– don’t want to take trained jihadists off our hands. Go figure.
So who is left? 35 detainees who will likely be tried in federal courts, or [gasp] military commissions.
Thus, after two years of campaign rhetoric and a year of presidential reality, the Obama administration has figured out exactly what the Bush administration knew all along. Most of the people currently held in Guantanamo are not innocent shepherds, and holding them, not releasing them is a national security imperative.