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.