National Security & Defense

Ignore Obama’s Grandstanding and Keep Gitmo Open

President Obama announces his Guantanamo closure plan. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

On Tuesday morning, while the president was delivering a statement from the Roosevelt Room announcing his plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Spanish and Moroccan police were arresting four suspected members of an Islamic terrorist cell seeking to recruit fighters to the Islamic State, among whom is a former Guantanamo detainee.

Alas, that grim juxtaposition is unlikely to dissuade the president from his reckless course.

Ninety-one detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, down from nearly 250 at the beginning of Barack Obama’s administration and 800 at the facility’s peak. The president views this as a moral victory, to be crowned by the closure of the facility altogether: “This is about closing a chapter in history,” he waxed on Tuesday.

In reality, it’s about the president’s fulfilling a long-postponed campaign promise, and the Congress, now tasked with approving or disapproving the president’s plan, should keep that firmly in mind. The president’s plan calls for the continued transfer of Guantanamo detainees to willing countries and, where that is not possible, housing remaining detainees on American soil. Both have always been, and remain, bad ideas.

The president has never addressed the high recidivism among terrorists, and his plan offers no way to mitigate the risk.

The release of Guantanamo detainees has proven calamitous. As The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes has reported, of 653 released detainees, 117 have returned to the fight against the U.S., and 79 more are suspected of doing so — a recidivism rate of almost one-third. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is committed to releasing another 35 detainees already approved for transfer. The president has never addressed the high recidivism among terrorists, and his plan offers no way to mitigate the risk.

Likewise, the president offers no sound reasons for housing detainees on American soil. The president risibly stated that Guantanamo Bay “drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running.” He is studiously ignoring the prodigious sums it would require to sufficiently harden, say, federal “supermax” prisons to ensure that they are not vulnerable to escape attempts courtesy of detainees’ associates.

#share#Second, radicalization inside American prisons is a well-documented phenomenon. The ringleader of a 2005 plot to bomb several military bases and synagogues in the Los Angeles area was radicalized in prison. Mixing Guantanamo detainees in with a broader prison population all but guarantees converts to the detainees’ ideology. (It also increases the likelihood of violence against prison guards, of which there have been hundreds of cases at Guantanamo Bay.)

Third, it stands to reason that this or a subsequent Democratic administration would use detention on American soil to argue for detainees’ right to trial in federal courts. And it is not at all difficult to envision that liberal justices hostile to the notion of indefinite detention will order the release of detainees from custody, possibly onto American soil.

Islamist ideology inspires terrorism, and that ideology will persist whether or not Guantanamo Bay is kept open.

Of course, the president’s ultimate pretext for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center is that it inspires terrorism, against the U.S. and against our allies. That is nonsense. Islamist ideology inspires terrorism, and that ideology will persist whether or not Guantanamo Bay is kept open. At least when it is open, we have a secure location to hold captured terrorists who wish us harm.

Coming as it does on the heels of his deal with Iran, his climate-change accord, and his announcement that he’ll travel to Cuba next month, the president is working to check off the final items on his second-term bucket list. But a legacy should not entail a risk to American lives at home or abroad.

It is currently illegal to transfer Guantanamo prisoners onto American soil. Congress would need to change the law to allow this. If lawmakers refuse to do this, Obama will no doubt attempt to unilaterally empty the facility by transferring the detainees abroad. There is little recourse available to the Congress to stop that. However, they can ensure that Guantanamo Bay remains available to the next president — who, one hopes, will put American security above moral grandstanding. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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