As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gitmo, Over And Out

Today happens to be the seventh anniversary of the opening of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which Scott Horton calls a "concentration camp." And on this day, Barack Obama's advisers are leaking that they will move to close it down by executive order immediately.

Advisers to President-elect Barack Obama say one of his first duties in office will be to order the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

That executive order is expected during Obama's first week on the job — and possibly on his first day, according to two transition team advisers. Both spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Obama's order will direct his administration to figure out what to do with the estimated 250 al-Qaida and Taliban suspects and potential witnesses who are being held at Guantanamo.

My first thought is that this is very strange. Yesterday on "This Week," Obama said that it would be "more difficult than a lot of people realize" to close Gitmo. Now there's this leak that it will be closed immediately. Perhaps they will order the closure while working out the more knotty issues at the same time.

Federal judges in Washington have ordered the release of at least 23 prisoners, ruling there were no grounds to detain them. Three were sent home to Bosnia last month.

About 200 other habeas corpus challenges are working their way through the courts.

However, experts say, political and legal will is not enough to surmount the complex diplomatic and security issues that must be resolved before the prison is closed: where to send those facing prosecution, whether a new court should be created to try them and what to do with those against whom the U.S. has little evidence but deep suspicions.

"The easy part is putting the detainees on a plane and flying them away. The hard part, and the part that is so important to get right, is the policy decisions," said Rear Adm. David Thomas, commander of the prison and interrogation network.

There is a little more of that "limits of the imagination" stuff at work here. Other countries in Europe have offered to take some detainees. Consider what Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director, has said on this:

While the next steps might be politically charged and require courage, they are not fundamentally complicated. Each detainee's case must be reviewed by the new Justice Department. If there is evidence of criminal conduct – and one would hope that, after all these years, the government with its vast resources in the Defense Department, the Justice Department, the CIA and FBI would have collected untainted evidence against those detainees it claims are dangerous or guilty -- detainees should be prosecuted in our traditional courts, which are the best in the world and fully capable of handling sensitive national security issues without compromising fundamental rights. If there is not, detainees should be repatriated to countries that don't practice torture. Fundamental and transformative change is neither incremental nor tentative.

I actually have fairly close ties to someone in the Justice Department working on what to do with the remaining Guantanamo detainees. There seems to be a lot of work here for a simple solution. We have had the debates over our justice system over 200 years. Those debates continue to an extent, but we have endlessly tried to perfect it so that they offer fair trials based on evidence without compromising civil liberties. There is simply no need to invent anything new. To the extent that "evidence" against detainees has been tainted because it was extracted through torture, that probably should have been considered before the torturing. Evidence obtained by torture is inadmissable in every civilized court in the world, and it would simply be unconstitutional to create a system that allowed it, not to mention distasteful. Glenn Greenwald has much more.

So in response, as it were, there's this leak that Gitmo will be closed immediately. The question, then, is will it be closed, or will it be "closed," pending some indefinite resolution sometime in the indefinite future.

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