Thursday, December 4, 2008

Goodbye Gitmo?

In an interview with CBS on 11/16, President-elect Obama maintained his position that he would close the detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay soon after taking office. He reiterated that the move would work to "regain America's moral stature in the world." Perhaps. I think it's clear, though, that there are other reasons for closing Gitmo that strike most people as rather self-evident: a symbolic departure with the Bush Administration's handling of the "war on terror," an attempt to end foreign pressure regarding torture and illegal detention, a need for increased transparency into the actions of the Executive branch. These are all well and good - but I just have to ask...maybe this is coming a bit too soon? I thought I was crazy when, a few weeks ago, I suggested to EJB that we develop a debate case centered on the theory "Obama should not close Gitmo within his first 100 days." The move just seems so morally justified. Thankfully, I've confirmed that I am not crazy - others are just as concerned as I am.


There are a few concerns I'd like to just mention, but, considering length constraints, I'd rather not fully develop arguments for any of them.

First, where will you put the detainees? Domestic prisons will absolutely refuse to accept terrorists amongst their ranks. NIMBY is one reason. Concern over increased prison violence is another.

Second, what of the 100 or more detainees who are still proclaiming to be hostile to the United States? We can't simply deport them - they'll immediately rejoin the ranks of al Qaeda and take up arms against us.

Third, what of the 150 or more detainees who are NOT hostile to the United States, but cannot be deported to their home States? This is a weird concern because the options are 1)continue to illegally detain a non-hostile innocent; or 2) ship the non-hostile innocent back to a country like Syria or Iran where he is wanted and will likely be tortured or executed. Which option is best for the individual's well-being? Do we have the right to act so paternally? What of those detainees whose home country no longer exists and whom no other country is willing to accept?

Fourth, under what system are we to try those who are triable? If we try them under a civilian system, many will be acquitted for lack of evidence. If we try them under a military system (which might not even be allowed under Geneva), we'd still have to find a place to incarcerate them.

Needless to say, this is a difficult situation. I am not sure how to answer any of these questions and thus I cannot profess to side with those who would close Gitmo or those who seek to keep it operational. The only thing this does prove, I believe, is that, considering the delicacy and difficulty of the situation, it would be unwise to move quickly towards any decision. There is absolutely no rush to close Gitmo - it has survived international scrutiny since 9/11. I would be wary of huge political moves made in haste.