Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama and Gitmo: Being damned for being responsible

OK, first off: Gitmo is a blight on America's honor and needs to be closed.

That having been said, President-elect Barack Obama is getting way too much shit from people about his statement that closing down Gitmo is complicated and won't be accomplished in 100 days.

What exactly did you expect him to do?

If he were to issue an Executive Order closing Gitmo in his first week, he'd have three choices of what to do with the prisoners:

1) Transport them to Federal holding facilities within the US. There is precedent for keeping people months and even years without charges--President Jimmy Carter did it with the Marielista boatlift prisoners, and Reagan, Bush, Clinton all quietly followed suit, leaving them to rot--primarily at Fort Chaffee Arkansas. But given that most of the folks at Gitmo have known identities and already have attorneys, that's not going to work.

2) Find other countries to take them as prisoners. Aside from the moral implications (rendition to countries with torture and no-due-process death penalties), there's the problem. Dubya has not been negotiating this, so Obama's State Department would have to start from scratch.

3) Release them. Aside from the dangers inherent with about 10-15% of these folks, where do you plan on releasing them? A lot were taken on battlefields in Iraq or Afghanistan, so releasing them there would require the agreement of those governments. Afghanistan actually has taken a large number of Gitmo prisoners back, but only on a case by case basis.

Point being: having said I will close Gitmo, the new President should enjoy a reasonable amount of time to make good his promise in a responsible manner. It is an inherently different proposition, I would suggest, than developing a strategy for dealing with Iran or Gaza, both of which are much higher priority national security concerns and won't go away.

Here's what Obama could do right now to silence his critics: issue an early Executive Order ending all enhanced interrogation techniques at Gitmo, extend Geneva Convention protections to the detainees there (there is a way to do this for captives who do not have a protecting power, and immediately open up the facility to international inspection.

And--to be perfectly honest--I expect his administration to take those steps pretty early. This is a campaign promise that I believe Barack Obama will keep.


Anonymous said...

Exile them to Gilligan's Island and let the Skipper handle them.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Fort Chaffee, and I'd have to say sending them there would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.