World

Why Obama's Plan To Close Guantanamo Is A Bad Idea

| by Nik Bonopartis
U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay detention campU.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay detention camp

There's a reason they call it Club Gitmo.

Yes, Guantanamo Bay detainees get a Koran, a prayer rug, three squares a day and a warm bed. But they also have exclusive use of a $750,000 soccer field and an entertainment room with recliners and a library of hundreds of video games. When they're in the mood for a movie, there's the facility's open-air theater, and if the thousands of library titles don't catch their fancy, they can sit down to breakfast with subscriptions to newspapers of their choosing.

You know, so they can keep up on events in a world they tried to destroy.

All of this is apparently too harsh for President Barack Obama, who made a campaign promise to close Guantanamo and release the men held there. Now that he's turned his attention to polishing his legacy full-time, Obama is working overtime on last-minute attempts to fulfill outstanding campaign pledges like closing Guantanamo's detention center, reforming immigration policy, and enacting clean environment measures.

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Mostly, the lame duck president has tried to bully his way to burnishing his legacy with executive orders, trying to bypass congress entirely and grant himself new powers to legislate.

This time around, Obama realizes he can't close Gitmo without the cooperation of legislators. The Pentagon won't allow him to do it. So he's resorted to begging.

"Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years, another 20 years another 30 years?" Obama asked congress. "If we don't do what's required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and justice, and our best American traditions was clear."

The problem is that the remaining detainees are the worst of the worst, the people considered too dangerous to be released or transferred back to their original countries.

Considering the fact that almost 200 released Guantanamo prisoners went back to terrorism -- or are suspected of fighting the U.S. again -- it doesn't take a genius to figure out what the hold-outs would do if they suddenly got their freedom. They include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, "architect" of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, fellow 9/11 plotter Abu Zubaydah, and Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called 20th hijacker who would have "martyred" himself on 9/11 just like his buddies if he hadn't been blocked from entering the U.S.

Instead of keeping those men -- and an estimated 50 or so others who are deemed too dangerous to release -- Obama wants to transfer the detainees to federal prisons in the U.S.

Considering the fact that busting their buddies out of prison is a favorite terrorist pastime, second only to blowing people up, does anyone see how that could go wrong?

“When you put 100-plus detainees in one spot," Florence Colorado police Chief Mike DeLaurentis told the New York Times, "you got the extremists who go, ‘Wow, we got all our people in one spot, let’s have a birthday party. Let’s go get ’em.’”

Florence is home to a maximum security federal prison, and it's one of the locations most often cited in discussions to bring Gitmo detainees stateside. It already houses more than 20 terrorists convicted of domestic crimes, like trying to blow up passenger jets. Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a prisoner there. So is al Qaeda honcho Zacarias Moussaoui, former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen, enough mobsters to round out the cast of a Martin Scorsese movie, "Unabomber" Theodore Kaczynski, and a handful of Mexican drug cartel leaders.

In other words, Florence is a community that has already shouldered its burden, and shouldn't be asked to put locals at further risk by painting a huge target on the "city" of 3,600 residents.

“It just doesn’t make sense to bring these dangerous people to our ground,” Sheriff James Beicker of Fremont County told the New York Times in a story about Gitmo detainees possibly getting rehoused in Colorado. “Why put any extra level of threat to our state or my county?”

The biggest issue with transferring Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil is the change to the detainees' legal status. The reason Guantanamo Bay prison was opened in the first place was to avoid prosecuting suspected terrorists in civilian courts, and to give intelligence officers time to interrogate prisoners who would know they could not simply run out the clock until trial.

But if more than half of the remaining Gitmo prisoners are the most dangerous, as authorities say they are, they're not going to see the light of day anyway. That means moving them from Guantanamo to U.S. soil is more a symbolic move than anything, and proves Obama is more worried about perception than reality.

Congress should refuse to play ball. Obama's second term is almost over. If he still wants to travel the world, apologizing for America's shortcomings and telling people he's embarrassed by how the country treats mass murderers, let him do it on his own time. At least the next president can look at the merits of Guantanamo on its own terms, without putting his or her legacy ahead of the safety of Americans.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: New York Times, Daily Mail, PBS Newshour, VICE, CNN / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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