Politics & Policy

Keep Guantanamo Open, Mr. President

Until the administration can articulate a coherent and convincing policy for closing Guantanamo, it should remain open.

The time has come for President Obama to formally rescind his order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and end his irresponsible allegations of injustices at the facility, which operates in a framework that respects the rule of law, keeps terrorists off American soil, and bolsters our national security.

The White House has been noticeably schizophrenic on Guantanamo. Once a self-professed agent of Western reconciliation with the Islamic world, the president has slowly lurched toward a terrorist detention policy that, by his own definition, supplies militant jihadists with their “number one recruitment tool.”

Two years ago, Obama made it one of his first official acts to sign an executive order closing the facility and suspending all military tribunals for terrorist detainees pending a full review by Attorney General Eric Holder. That evaluation and the shutting of Guantanamo were to be complete last year.

Next, the White House began shopping for a prison facility in the United States that could accommodate transferred Guantanamo detainees. On Dec. 15, 2009, the president directed the secretary of defense and the attorney general to purchase and activate a state correctional facility located in Thomson, Ill. But then, Congress prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to transfer Guantanamo detainees to American soil — in a bill that the president signed, even though he called the restriction a “dangerous and unprecedented challenge” that he “will seek to mitigate.”

In the meantime, the administration has argued for everything from extending Miranda rights to foreign-born terrorists captured on the battlefield to trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, a few blocks from the site where the Twin Towers fell.

At every point, the president has insisted that keeping Guantanamo open weakens America’s national security, provides al-Qaeda with its most effective recruiting tool, and compromises America’s enduring values. Yet the post 9/11 framework against which he campaigned and within which he now is constrained has kept America safe.

Now the administration plans to begin a new round of military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, which signals yet another concession by the White House that the president’s plan to close the facility and conduct terrorist trials in civilian courts was as impractical as it was unwise. That two years have elapsed while the president learned what the rest of the country already knew engenders no confidence in the administration’s ability to understand the necessities of war or bear the burdens of leadership.

Not only has the country waited while the administration circled around to embrace policies it once derided, but so have Guantanamo detainees. The administration’s unnecessary delay in these prosecutions could, in a strange twist of fate, foment greater hostility to our American justice system than any Bush-era enhanced interrogation ever did.

Certainty about how to deal with our enemies serves to reinforce our standing in the world. The two years of indecision supports the conclusion that our adversaries — and many of our allies — have reached: The United States no longer projects a determined course for freedom and the rule of law.

The president should publicly affirm that, for now, Guantanamo Bay is the most advanced, lawful, and secure complex for hardened terrorists. Until the administration can articulate a coherent and convincing policy for closing Guantanamo, it should remain open.

— Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) is chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, as well as a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

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