Thursday, February 26, 2009

GITMO: Why Is Obama Closing Such a Professional, Lawfully Run Facility?

Before his inauguration, President Obama announced that once he took office he would immediately start the process of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The detention center has received deep criticism from domestic and foreign human rights advocates, civil liberties activists, and from liberal politicians. Many commentators have argued that Obama's election will allow the United States to move beyond its damaged global reputation because Obama will remedy civil liberties violations and end practices such as indefinite detention, "harsh" interrogations, and other procedural harms that gave Bush and the country a bad reputation in many parts of the world.

During his first week in office, Obama lived up to his promise and issued an executive order which requires the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center within one year. But the administration's position regarding the detention center has evolved tremendously this week as a result of two major developments.

First, Admiral Patrick Walsh of the Navy completed a review of the facility, which Obama commissioned. The Walsh report concludes that the detention facility complies with the Geneva Conventions. Walsh makes minor recommendations for improving the lives of detainees, such as giving certain "dangerous" individuals more outdoor recreation time. Human rights activists have condemned the report.

Second, Attorney General Holder has just completed a tour of the facility, and he also gives it a favorable review. Holder says that he is "impressed" by the "professionalism" of the staff at the facility. Holder also says that he did not witness any mistreatment of detainees. Instead, Holder says that he "saw a conscious attempt by those guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way." Perhaps a visit by the Attorney General of the United States caused them to exhibit their best behavior. Everyone wants to impress the boss (or the boss's lawyer), right?

Question: If the Guantanamo Bay detention center is legally and professionally run, why is Obama closing it? I suspect that the decision to close the detention center has a lot to do with the president's campaign promises and the utter contempt that many liberals have for the facility.

But the decision to close the center could also form part of a broader strategy to send detainees to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan where, arguably, they would not qualify for habeas corpus (like Guantanamo Bay detainees). The Obama administration has already embraced Bush's position that detainees at Bagram are not entitled to habeas corpus and that the government can try them in military commissions. Also, Holder and Solicitor General Elena Kagan have both argued that the United States can indefinitely detain Al Qaeda suspects, regardless of whether they were caught on the battlefield. CIA Director Leon Panetta has also said that the CIA will continue the practice of rendition, a program which transfers individuals to other countries without the formal procedures associated with extradition. Combining all of these powers, Bagram could end up becoming Obama's GITMO.


dualdiagnosis said...

What are your thoughts on this story?-
Exclusive: Lawyer says Guantanamo abuse worse since Obama

And do you think that the "left" will again ignore stories like this? Do you think they would have ignored it if this headline came out while McCain was Prez?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DD - you know my answer to this! Actually, as time goes by, people are getting a little more willing to criticize him on this. In all fairness, I think an independent investigation would have done a lot. At least one reader has said that detainees have no crediblity at all, and that there's no reason not to trust the military. To me, that's an extreme position that misses the truth in the middle. But I believe the President wants to minimize criticism and any litigation while he closes (i.e., gets rid of the evidence) GITMO.

If this report had come out during a McCain or Hillary Clinton presidency, I think there would be an impeachment movement developing.

Stray Yellar Dawg? said...

I predict he will not be closing it. Because, closing Gitmo turns out to be far more complex a process than Mr. Obama imagined.

This is merely the spin leading up to the reversal. We are supposed to be good little Democrats and swallow ... hook, line and sinker.

Imagine if Bush had sent a couple of his cronies in there to come out and tell us... "hey, it's run just like the Ritz Carlton." Would we have believed them?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Stray - a member of Congress said the same thing -- well, that Obama will probably decide that he shouldn't close it.

Drawlines Blog said...

Honestly, he might just not close GITMO after all. Look at how many Bush policies he railed against, and then ultimately adopted. For that matter, he did the same thing to Hillary. Do you think that choosing her as Secretary of State was an accident, after she called his foreign policy stances "naive"?

It's no surprise to hear that GITMO complies with Geneva Convention guidelines, and it's no surprise that Bagram doesn't. You're absolutely right that facility will probably become his Guantanamo.

The whole broad-brush problem with the Obama administration is that he does what looks or sounds good, rather than what will actually help. It's "talk vs. action" run amok. I've written before that the country just might end up missing George Bush. But if Obama keeps adopting his policies undercover, we might not get that opportunity.

Thanks for the great post!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Drawlines - I doubt many people will soon miss Bush, regardless of what Obama does. And I have seen a few people argue that the government may actually keep GITMO open. Interestingly, I think human rights activists may lean towards this position - especially if the Supreme Court finds that detainees at other facilities do not have a right to file a write of habeas corpus.

Decidere said...

If he moves it somewhere else, he starts the clock over.

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