There is renewed interest in Guantanamo Bay. Released Gitmo detainees hold prominent positions in the terror network responsible for the foiled Christmas Day airline attack, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Can President Obama reverse his rash promise to close what everyone agrees is a top-of-the-line, Geneva Conventions–compliant detention center? Or must the president and his advisers press ahead?
PETER BROOKES Considering the Christmas Day attack and the recidivism rate of former detainees, it makes no sense to close Gitmo. Who in his right mind could blame us for keeping the facility open? It’s clear we’re still in the crosshairs of al-Qaeda, Inc., which continues to ruthlessly plot against innocents. If this isn’t “war” anymore, then exactly what is it?
But with one of the most political administrations in recent memory, there is no way this president is backing down from one of his first executive decisions upon entering the Oval Office — not to mention a campaign promise. He’s already just about missed his intended deadline for shuttering Gitmo, so to be sure to fend off expected criticism, especially from his political base, Obama will find a way to do it.
And, by George, there are elections this year, in which he, as the standard-bearer for his party, will be judged on his Gitmo decision. Liberals running for office are already in a heap of trouble — even without Gitmo.
The sad thing is that this shouldn’t be a political decision, but a national-security one, based on the good of the country. Unfortunately, that sort of common sense isn’t so common in Washington anymore.
– Peter Brookes is Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs and Chung Ju-Yung Fellow for Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
LEE A. CASEY & DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. In truth, it will be far more difficult for the president to accept that his decision to close Guantanamo was wrong than it will be for him to explain a reversal of the policy. Here, the spin is easy — it has the unusual virtue of being true.
Obama has consistently maintained that he would not endanger American security in implementing his policies vis-à-vis al-Qaeda and its allies — he could hardly have done otherwise. That being the case, he need only acknowledge that one of the fundamental aspects of his Guantanamo closure policy — the ability to transfer most of the detainees either to their own countries or to third countries for “rehabilitation” — has not worked out as he had hoped and expected. The only way of closing Guantanamo and ensuring U.S. security interests would be to bring the entire detainee population into the United States, which he never planned to do. Therefore, Guantanamo will have to remain open pending further review of detainee repatriation opportunities and policies.
The problem, of course, is that Mr. Obama’s base spent nearly eight years claiming that Guantanamo was inherently evil and that it was a stain on the nation’s reputation attributable to George W. Bush’s insatiable desire to concentrate power in his own hands regardless of individual rights.
The Bush policy was, of course, neither evil nor unlawful, and any “stain” has always been more imaginary than real. But too many of Bush’s critics came to believe their own propaganda, and changing these beliefs will be hard. Nevertheless, the presidency is a hard job — so Mr. Obama had best get to it.
– David B. Rivkin Jr. & Lee A. Casey are partners in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker & Hostetler LLP. They served in the Justice Department during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. David Rivkin is co-chair of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism.