Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Are We Closing Guantanamo?

Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantánamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest — a far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama’s signature national security policies than they had previously hinted.
So, closure is not going to happen soon.  And the taxpayer will undoubtedly get stuck with a payoff to whatever U.S. locality ends up housing the Guantanamo inmates.   What will this have accomplished?

Nothing. The issue should never have been whether the U.S. closes Guantanamo.  I am not aware of a compelling reason to maintain this base, and I am equally unaware of a compelling reason to close it.

The crucial question has always been, and remains, what legal rules and procedures to employ for individuals designated by the federal government as enemy combatants?

The Bush administration's view was that the federal government could detain anyone, whether a U.S. citizen or not, whether captured on U.S. soil or not, indefinitely.  And that such detainees had no right to counsel, process, procedure, or anything.

That cannot be the right balance between protecting national security and safeguarding individual rights.   I can imagine a reasonable argument that says, "persons captured under such and such cirmcumstances, who might be a threat to national security, do not have the same rights as a standard criminal suspect." Perhaps this would mean trials held in secret, or under different rules of evidence, or something.  But anyone detained by the government must have some ability to protest his innocence.

So, I would have cheered Obama had he iniated a serious discussion of the appropriate rules and procedures for dealing with enemy combatants.  Instead, he focussed on the irrelevant question of whether to close Guantanamo.  By so doing he has given and aid and comfort to proponents of the extreme positions that he and his supporters claim to oppose.

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