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Gitmo: The Gift the GOP Can't Let Go

Sarah's picture

Oh, Obama's failing us again because Gitmo's still open!!!!! Outrage meter up to 11-plus, Stat! Call for impeachment! This is horrible! We were promised CHANGE, and we're getting NOTHING but rhetorical flourishes!!!

Only not so much, because Obama isn't Bush, and it turns out you have to have money to close a prison -- even one as heinous as Guantanamo Bay's military detainment center.

President Obama will seek today to wrest back control of the debate on the future of Guantánamo Bay after the Senate stripped $80 million (£50 million) earmarked for closing the detention centre from a war funding Bill.

Yesterday’s 90-6 vote, after a similar decision by the House of Representatives last week, shows how far the Administration’s national security agenda risks being blown off course by powerful political crosswinds even within a Democratic-dominated Congress.

Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said that the Administration had to work with Congress on a number of tough choices resulting from a “hasty decision” to close the base: “The President has not decided where some of the detainees will be transferred.”

Mr Obama will deliver what aides describe as a big-picture speech clarifying the philosophy that led him to order the closure of the detention camp in southeastern Cuba and publish secret memos on interrogation techniques — while resorting to many of the same security tools or legal arguments for which the Bush Administration was widely denounced.

You also have to figure out where to send the people who are in that prison when you close it. Some of them you can probably just turn loose because you had no right to hold them in the first place. Others you might need to hang onto, but nobody wants to help you make sure they're safely (let alone humanely) detained.

The vote came as FBI Director Robert Mueller warned that bringing the bad guys here presented risks that ranged from “concerns about providing financing, radicalizing others” to increasing “the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.” And, of course, somewhere there breathes a federal judge who will seek to begin the process to release them, even here if no other nation will take them.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), responding to public concerns, has introduced legislation called “Protecting America’s Communities Act” to prohibit the transfer. Said Chambliss:
“People across America are very concerned that this administration has not developed a plan for what to do with these hard-core terrorists once the detention center at Guantanamo is shuttered. Americans are concerned that they will be released into the United States. It is important to remember most detainees held at Guantanamo were captured on the battlefields in Afghanistan or Iraq and were determined to be a threat to our nation’s security. Whatever their ties to terrorists groups or activities, these individuals should never be given the privilege of crossing our borders, even if incarcerated. To do so would be nothing short of an invitation for al-Qaida to operate inside our homeland.”
Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution, Congress has the absolute power to exclude aliens for security reasons that include terrorist activities, he said. He;d add to the no-entry list “an alien who, as of January 1, 2009, was being detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.”
Other provisions would seek to ensure that if the President does find a way to transfer them here, they won’t be released until another country is willing to take them. The legislation also acknowledges that armed conflict exists with al-Qaida, the Taliban and related forces and reaffirms the President’s authority to detain enemy fighters regardless of where they’re captured.

Some of them you probably shouldn't just turn loose, and some of them -- especially from a place as heinous as Gitmo -- it would be inhumane not to take care of, considering the damage that's been done them in our names because we were stupid enough not to actively stop w and Cheney when we had the chance.
So now we have to live with the consequences, and it's not fun. But if we're going to turn ours back into a better nation,

we have to recognize that the mess we're in -- like being 200 pounds overweight -- didn't happen overnight and isn't going to be a simple overnight cleanup job.

The aftermath of the 43rd President's reign (and for those of you who don't remember bitching about just exactly how dictatorial Bush was, in light of bitching about how dictatorial Obama isn't being on issues the left blogosphere and progressives want fixed NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW) is a toxic spill the breadth of which we haven't fully discovered yet. We have an idea about the scope of the mess w left behind, but it's vague and incomplete and as the much-reviled NPR pointed out yesterday, we don't know yet what all we don't know, but we know that what we don't know about is worse than we thought.

The GOP still wants its tracks covered on this, and whatever power Cheney retains in DC will be dedicated to absolving w and his henchpeople of the evil they did. We must not stand still for that, and we must not be distracted by efforts to redirect the outrage against Obama, Pelosi, and Reid -- or against a handful of low-level military personnel who've mostly already had their careers ruined and their lives irrevocably altered as scapegoats for the Bush administration's terrorism.

To go back to that Atlantic article cited in my first graf:

2 Jan 2009 03:30 pm

"Sin is a suppurating wound; punishment is the surgeon's knife."

The Bush Administration prisoner, torture and rendition apparatus was effectively dismantled today with four pen strokes. President Obama convened a panel to determine how to closure the Guantanamo Bay detainee prison within a year. He ordered that all intelligence gatherers limit their interrogation techniques to the published Army Field Manual, revoking Executive Order 13440, the now infamous Bush administration gloss on the Geneva Conventions. He directed the Justice Department to request a stay in a critical policy-determining court case. He explicitly rejects the legal advice promulgated by President Bush's legal counsel on interrogation policy. He ordered the government to give the International Committee of the Red Cross immediate access to detainees. Renditions to countries that are known to torture prisoners will be stopped. All CIA "black" detention facilities will be closed. Now -- even as he limited interrogation techniques -- the result of a recommendation from his transition advisers -- he's convening a task force to determine whether these techniques are too restrictive. The intelligence community worries that smart armies will train their soldiers to resist AFM techniques. Basically, Obama's stance is: the AFM will govern intelligence interrogations unless we decide that it won't. It's not entirely clear what the administration wants to do with those held in Gitmo. The GOP introduced legislation today prohibiting detainees from being released into the United States.

What a wonderful day that was -- and how hard it is to remember that feeling of elation, that sense of justice overcoming viciousness, today.

We're finding out just how effective the GOP's rear-guard action is, now.

Republicans are poised with an amendment by James Inhofe of Oklahoma that would block any of the Guantanamo detainees from coming to U.S. soil to stand trial or serve their sentences. A detainee was released to France last week, leaving 240 at Guantanamo.

"Shuttering this facility now could only serve one end: and that is to make Americans less safe than Guantanamo has," said GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"Guantanamo is the perfect place for these terrorists," McConnell said later.

House Democrats also dropped funding to close Guantanamo when producing their version of the war funding bill, which easily passed last week.

The Guantanamo controversy has roiled Washington, with most Republicans adamantly opposed to closing the prison, which mostly holds enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan. Republicans say abuses at the facility are a thing of the past.

President Obama must persuade Democratic solons now to help him close this blot on our nation's honor -- the vote against the funding was 90-6. That's not just the GOP at work (although the GOP/Blue Dog coalition and the NIMBY contingent are, in my opinion, deserving of a little crosshair-focused attention for their actions on this vote among many. What, you don't have crosshairs on your word-processor? Get some!!!!!!!).

(I would, personally, prefer Guantanamo's military prison now become our nation's Spandau -- and house w, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and their henchpeople without possibility of parole during the rest of their earthly existence, right out in those open kennels they claimed were so comfortable for the Gitmo prisoners they exiled to years of being held not just without access to lawyers but without even having charges filed against them -- orange jumpsuits and bracing sea air are spa conditions, right?)

The horrors of the past eight years, cumulatively, aren't gonna be redeemed in half a year -- or one term, or even two, of a Presidency. What's been done inside our country and outside our country in the name of the Global War on Terror can't be swept away, after all, with a few penstrokes. It wasn't built that way. It was designed to mimic cancer, and spread virtually untraceable tentacles into every vulnerability in the planet's bodies politic. Like a virus, like a metastasis, it didn't just exist following 9-11-01, but was nurtured and cultivated as assiduously as a bioweapon -- remember the anthrax mailed to the Senate, CBS, and some ancient lady in some tiny Vermont town, as well as a tabloid newsroom? People died in that attack, too, but that's been swept aside as conveniently as the notion that any disease -- anthrax, Ypestis, Ebola -- presents a clearer and more present danger than swine flu, the hype over which is continually being re-ignited in our hyper-sensationalist media.

Am I now an apologist for hope? Dunno -- there was a striking line in "Criminal Minds" last night. A black man who'd lost a leg in Iraq was confronting the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit's investigators over their decision to bring his mother to the headquarters of their investigation into his sister's disappearance (along with what turned out to be at least 92 other irrevocably altered lives, by the end of that nightmare-inducing episode). A highly decorated veteran, he said (paraphrased):
"Bad news, you adjust to it and move on. Hope is paralyzing."

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basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

to get through this well. Without Republicans on board, it's going to turn into a very nasty issue in the next few elections. Cheney's got plenty of enemies within his party and there are enough GOP who would like to see this resolved that it could happen. Perhaps Baker or Scowcroft? I'm not sure what they have said individually on the subject, but I know they would both likely be reasonable participants.

We need to bring them place cool and reasonable. Give them nice beds, good food and real therapy. The ones that are too nuts to be let loose, need to have one resolution. The ones who can be restored to decent mental and emotional, or who already are there, should be further rehabilitated and returned to their family. Let reunion take place on our territory and help the families through the ordeal. The ones who are genuine terrorists should be tried in our courts and sent to prison - like everyone else. But none of that is likely to happen unless we have a way for Obama and the Democratic congress to land to the right of the commission and be dragged left from there.

This issue alone can turn into a bloodbath of the first order for Democratic electoral ambitions. The bi-partisan commission has always been an obvious solution. I wish that would have been offered up during the campaign.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Coke or Pepsi? Marlboros or Camels? Ford SUVs or Chevy SUVs?

One's good, the other's bad? As Chomsky says, there are small differences between Democrats and Republicans, but the U.S. government is so large that even small differences can be enormous for lots of people and on lots of issues. But that generally the Democrats are better than the Republicans does not mean that I will be a faithful, forelock-pulling vassal to the leader(s) of the slightly better group of rulers.

The issue isn't Obama vs. Bush. It isn't "it's so ha-a-a-rd" to clean up massive destruction. The issue is basic human rights, as the issues in the economy, in health care, in pensions, and all the other problems have to do with the right policies rather than the right parties. If Obama isn't ready to tackle the problems, he shouldn't have run for president. And he certainly shouldn't have lied about his commitment to human and civil rights (remember FISA? Where did hope get you?)

I'm sorry if I misunderstand you, but this comes across like "All you DFHs need to shut up and trust our ruling class."

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and yet at the same time not completely unexpected.

What I'm saying is the efforts to close Gitmo are being undermined from myriad directions now -- and some of those directions are political as well as practical.

I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt on this issue to the President, based on this statement he made in his national security speech:

As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts – they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.

but I'm not willing to hand him carte-blanche. For one thing, he's not had time to clean out the Cheney / w infestation of "left-behind" "good Christian soldiers" we all knew were being sewn into agency after administration after department -- from Health and Human Services to the JOC/DOD to the Interior and "Homeland Security" (shudder. A real liberal would've disbanded that monster on 1/21/09, no questions asked).

For another thing, he's changed his mind on an awful lot of the promises he offered during his campaign.

For another thing, there's a further statement from his speech:

Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders – highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal "supermax" prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said: "The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational."

Graham apparently can be, occasionally, something besides clueless, useless and constitutionally incapable of recognizing the truth, let alone doing the right thing. Must be tough on him when the Party examines his performance.

Now, I'm a big fan of don't panic (cf the Swine Flu: blow your nose and wash your hands, stay out of crowds and wash your hands, get a flu shot and wash your hands). So when I hear these words:

First, when feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts – courts provided for by the United States Constitution. Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and juries of our citizens are tough enough to convict terrorists, and the record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center – he was convicted in our courts, and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison. Zaccarias Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker – he was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantanamo.

I'm reassured by the knowledge that, lo these many years later, Charlie Manson remains in jail (may he rot for eternity). These other guys? They're in jail too, but unlike Charlie Manson, I don't think they've completely exhausted the ingenuity of lawyers with ideas for appeals.

But what about the ones for whom jail's not the answer? The GOP is all abuzz with its new "research" showing something like one in every seven return to terrorist activity. Well, there's good news and bad news there; six of every seven don't go back, so that's good news. One (who is now probably REALLY pissed off) does, so that's bad news.

My main point is this thing didn't get this fucked up, to put it mildly, in five months. It won't get fixed in five months. It will get as fixed as can be figured out how to do with it, which I think is a huge damn improvement over Clusterfuck Dick and w the wonderdummy, but it's going to be messy and slow and I'm not going to like all the steps involved either. At least Obama's trying. So let's let him work. He might come up with something palatable and practicable, who knows?

That's way the hell more than any (R) would have done, as John McCain made clear in his campaign.

Insofar as human rights and black vs. white, simple vs. hard -- the right thing to do is easy to know when you're watching from a distance, isn't it?

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

in a war that isn't over yet.
Hold them as such.
Treat them as such.
Geneva conventions and all.

I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

Just, you know, do the right thing. For a change.

Submitted by jawbone on

power choose to declare, or undeclare then redeclare, or obfuscate or whatever they want.

That's one problem.

Note Obama's words:

These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

What does "in effect" mean? Constitutionally, legally, under international law?

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

-- John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV. Milton was Cromwell's propaganda minister during the English civil war. He understood political motivations, speeches, and actions, and pretty well nailed the rationalizations of authoritarians based on national security.

Obama has put himself out to influence Congress on several issues since the election -- he whipped to get FISA passed (you know, the one he declared he would filibuster against on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary), and he jumped on the side of the billions to banksters NOW NOW NOW. I'd love it if he would address himself to the problems of corruption of the civil service that you point out, but since he hasn't, I don't accept it as an excuse for not pursuing appropriate action. Do you really think that the Senate would have voted overwhelmingly against closing Gitmo if Obama had told Democrats in the Senate that he didn't want them to? I don't. Otherwise, I guess I'd be thinking, "What a stunningly ineffectual man."

Anyway, rich yet predictable as my reactions may be, I'm not as smart as you. Insofar as human rights and black vs. white, simple vs. hard -- the right thing to do is easy to know when you're watching from a distance, isn't it? No, for me it isn't easy, even from a great distance. Certainly, it wasn't easy for the founders of this country during the Revolution, but George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and their cohorts held fast to decent treatment of prisoners, habeas corpus, and the rule of law in that time of great danger. We are fools, knaves, and bloody cowards if we throw it all away for the thrill of vicarious empire.

If other words, I think I'll keep what pressure I can on the country's leaders.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

we very well may have to resort to in order to bring the real criminals here -- the people who ordered the torture -- to whatever semblance of justice we can manage?

One of the prickly issues is the fate of the Uighurs (Muslims of Chinese extraction). China doesn't want them released and has issued warnings that it will retaliate against any nation which does take them. Why this is I haven't researched (not my day to watch what evil the Chinese are up to on purpose, as it's a full-time job dodging the evil they're perpetuating by simple negligence).

Another very prickly issue is the fate of detainees driven not just insane but into such a damaged state they're no longer, functionally, capable of taking care of themselves. And the Padilla case reminds me of what it is about the "justice system that people are accustomed to" really might be wrong with this picture -- detainees sent to trial in front of judges appointed by Bush / Cheney /41 / Reagan. "Tough on crime" would never have a better sales pitch built in than "accused terrorists".