The Web’s Leading Military Blog Since 2004
Bush’s Gitmo Vindication
This was published in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. I wanted to share it in case you haven’t seen and get your thoughts as well. On January 22nd, I made a prediction and I can’t wait to see if it comes true.
Obama still hasn’t said where the worst terrorists will go.
President Obama delivered a major speech yesterday on how he intends to prosecute the war on terror (or whatever it’s now called), and in particular his desire to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. As rhetoric, his remarks were at pains to declare a bold new moral direction. On substance, however, the speech and other events this week look more like a vindication of the past seven years.
The President’s speech came after both houses of Congress had denied his funding requests to shut down Guantanamo and relocate some of the most dangerous prisoners to the U.S. The 90-6 vote in the Senate was especially notable because all but a half-dozen Democrats opposed their own President, on that high-minded principle known as not-in-my-backyard.
So, to the idea that isolated Alcatraz Island could serve as one possible location, California’s Dianne Feinstein says it is a historic landmark and instead suggests a prison in another state. But the most state-of-the-art “supermax” prison in America is in Colorado, and this week that state’s new Democratic Senator, Michael Bennet, vetoed that idea; as it happens, he’s running for election in 2010.
Then there is the voluble Jim Webb, who in January said Mr. Obama had offered a reasonable timeline in ordering Guantanamo closed in a year. But now the Virginia Democrat opposes closing Gitmo anytime soon while observing to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases. There are cases against international law.”
That was the Bush Administration’s point all along.
Mr. Obama, for his part, still wants Gitmo closed, and he cited South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham in saying that the idea that the detainees could not be securely held in the U.S. was “not rational.” Apparently also irrational is FBI Director Robert Mueller, who this week told Congress that bringing the detainees even to U.S. prisons raised serious concerns, “from providing financing, radicalizing others, [to] the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.”
Yet for all of his attacks on the Bush Administration, which he accused of making “decisions based upon fear rather than foresight,” Mr. Obama stuck with his predecessor’s support for military commissions, adding some procedural bells and whistles as political cover to justify his past opposition. For the record: Both the left and right, from the ACLU to Dick Cheney, now agree that the President has all but embraced the Bush policy.
Mr. Obama also pledged to release at least 50 detainees to other countries — about one-tenth the number released under President Bush — and added that the Administration was in “ongoing discussions” to transfer them. Good luck with that: The Europeans who were so robustly against Gitmo in the Bush years have suddenly discovered its detainees are dangerous. Meanwhile, the countries that might take them, such as Yemen, can’t be trusted to prevent them from returning to the battlefield, where they can kill Americans again.
The President will also seek to try some of the detainees in federal courts, citing the recent case of al Qaeda sleeper Ali al-Marri who last month pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and may be sentenced to a mere 15 years, and possibly much less, in a civilian prison. But what the al-Marri prosecution — and the soft plea bargain — really shows is how hard it is to convict terrorists in civilian courts when much of the evidence against them is either classified or wasn’t gathered on the battlefield at the time of capture.
Mr. Obama’s most remarkable Gitmo sleight-of-hand was on the matter of how to handle the hard cases, those who Mr. Obama said “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” After acknowledging this was “the toughest issue we will face” and pledging that he would not “release individuals who endanger the American people,” the President proposed . . .
well, he didn’t really say what he’d do, except that whatever it is must be “defensible and lawful.” No wonder the ACLU is in a tizzy.
Which brings us back to Guantanamo. The President went out of his way to insist that its existence “likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained,” albeit without offering any evidence, and that it “has weakened American security,” again based only on assertion. What is a plain fact is that in the seven-plus years that Gitmo has been in operation the American homeland has not been attacked.
It is also a plain fact — and one the President acknowledged — that many of the detainees previously released, often under intense pressure from Mr.
Obama’s anti-antiterror allies, have returned to careers as Taliban commanders and al Qaeda “emirs.” The New York Times reported yesterday on an undisclosed Pentagon report that no fewer than one in seven detainees released from Gitmo have returned to jihad.
Mr. Obama called all of this a “mess” that he had inherited, but in truth the mess is of his own haphazard design. He’s the one who announced the end of Guantanamo without any plan for what to do with, or where to put, KSM and other killers. Now he’s found that his erstwhile allies in Congress and Europe want nothing to do with them. Tell us again why Gitmo should be closed?