Farewell to Gitmo

Further to this post, in which I expressed grave doubts that Obama’s America—however superior it will turn out to be than the Americas that preceded it—will convince Canadians of their neighbour’s overall benevolent nature, the New York Times has a sobering article on the topic of closing Guantanamo. (They also have incredibly detailed dossiers on all current and former detainees.)

Resident at the prison camp, according to the Times investigation, are:

-Men who were allegedly, at one time, potential 9/11 hijackers.

-Sixteen men “accused of some of the most significant terrorist attacks in the last decade, including the 1998 bombings at American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen, and the Sept. 11 attacks.

-Twenty men accused of being Osama bin Laden’s “bodyguards.”

-And, perhaps most tellingly, “more than 60″ men who have been cleared for release or transfer, according to the Pentagon, but remain at Guantánamo because of difficulties negotiating transfer agreements between the United States and other countries.”

It’s unclear what Washington can do with some of these people even if it finds them innocent, in other words.

So, what to do? One option for Obama, which John McCain often mentioned, involves transferring the facility onto U.S. soil proper. Perhaps that would have some symbolic value, but it’s not what anyone would call a solution. And trying the detainees as civilians makes no more sense in the U.S. than it does in Canada for Omar Khadr, as the lion’s share of evidence would simply be inadmissible. You can certainly argue that if there’s no evidence, then they should go free, but as Daniel Marcus, who was the 9/11 Commission’s general counsel, tells the Times, that’s easier said than done. “It would be very difficult for a new president to come in and say, ‘I don’t believe what the CIA is saying about these guys.'”

Bill Kuebler, Omar Khadr’s tremendous military lawyer, put it to me thusly some months ago:

I don’t think the political will exists in this country to protect the human rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. … No one’s voter is in Gitmo. Everything there is devoted to non-U.S. citizens. And so for a Democrat or a Republican to come out and say, “I’m going to take affirmative steps to protect the rights of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo,” there’s a political cost to that.

And moreover, when you’re talking about guys like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other people allegedly responsible for 9/11, you’ve got to realize that the government tortured these people. And the evidence we have against them is not going to be admissible in a regular court, and I don’t think anyone—up to and including Barack Obama—is going to say, “I’m going to not prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” or create the risk that he’s not going to be punished for 9/11, [just] because it’s the right thing to do. That’s just not going to happen.

Again, I hope he’s wrong. But closing Gitmo is a huge undertaking—way harder than opening it. Unless Obama makes it a leading priority right away, the chances of the facility shutting its doors and its inmates gaining some kind of more permanent status—in prison, back home, whatever—strike me as reasonable in Obama’s second term. Which would, of course, be great in itself. It’s just not something I’d dance in the streets about.