By Ben Johnson
hearing that President Obama plans to close Guantanamo Bay within a
year, the first thought that occurred to me was: where will terrorists
go for their lemon chicken? One detention center librarian has said "a few [detainees] are kind of hooked on" the Harry Potter series; will Obama at least detain them long enough to finish The Deathly Hallows? For that matter, where else will these young jihadists ever enjoy access to a several thousand-volume library? How can you keep a boy in the compound once he's seen Gitmo?
a flippant reaction, of course, minimizes the very real consequences of
The New Era of Irresponsibility. Terrorists have had no trouble
retaining their foot soldiers. "Reformed" detainee Said Ali Al-Shihri
is presently the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. A total of 61 former detainees have returned
to the battlefield, or 12 percent of the 510 released under the more
stringent measures President Obama is discarding, which deemed them
"innocent" and unlikely to threaten American interests if set free.
That makes the following report
from the Associated Press particularly chilling: "Former
detainees...around the world welcomed President Barack Obama's decision
to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center."
triple-threat exective orders - closing Guantanamo Bay no later than
one year from now, shuttering rendition "black sites," and binding
interrogators to the Army Field Manual for high value detainees -
threaten to destroy the security apparatus that has kept this nation safe
for seven years. Where will the detainees be sent? What legal rights
might they incur as a result? And how can we assure not a single
American life is lost as a result of releasing dozens, if not hundreds,
of dangerous fundamentalist warriors?
These questions are not
totally lost on the Obama administration; they were simply ignored in
the stampede to curry world favor. A senior White House official
assessed the remaining Gitmo detainees, saying, "There's one category
that we can transfer. There's one category that we can try. The third
category can't be transferred, can't be tried." What will be done with
these? As Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' appalling responses showed
during his first press conference, he has no idea. Not to worry, Barack
Obama has a solution: a government committee, likely headed by a man
who believes "waterboarding is torture," which will make recommendations within six months.
Typically, leaders analyze their plans ahead before acting, assess the
possible consequences against the intended goals, and then decide
whether they are worth pursuing. In this case, the goal of "cleaning up
our image" trumped the consequences of possibly releasing the 21st and
22nd hijackers. (Ironically, Obama's actions were praised by the same
Democrats who criticized President Bush for not having "a withdrawal
strategy" from a war before invasion.)
On rendition, the same White House official remarked,
"There are some renditions that are in fact justifiable and defensible,
and there are others that have been mistakes and are not justifiable."
Yet the president chose to destroy the network of permanent prisons
that might be important in those "justifiable and defensible" cases.
Obama surrounded himself with military men for his signing photo op,
those in positions of authority disagree with the spirit of his order.
The Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Michael McConnell, has said, "Does the [intelligence] community need interrogation techniques beyond what's in the Army Field Manual? In my opinion we do."
Objective evidence bears him out. Lt. Gen. Randall “Mark” Schmidt testified
before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2005 that when enhanced
interrogation techniques were applied to 20th hijacker Mohammed
al-Qahtani, he “proved to have intimate knowledge of [terrorists’]
future plans” and provided “extremely valuable intelligence.” CIA
chief Michael Hayden testified
last February that two of the three al-Qaeda terrorists waterboarded,
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, provided the agency with
one-quarter of all human intelligence it had about al-Qaeda. Maybe our
armed forces can safeguard our Republic with only 75 percent of the
puzzle. Maybe not.
True, Obama's executive orders hold out the possibility of exceptions
in virtually every one of these situations, although no one, including
the president, seems to know under what circumstances those exceptions
might be invoked, if ever. The potential for loopholes can be read as a
sign of moderation, or a mere nod to reality. But it is easier to
maintain a state of readiness than to assume the appropriate conditions
can be recreated the instant they are needed. Special permission for
harsh techniques may be granted or temporary rendition sites may be
located, in time - but that is not good enough if interrogators are
acting against a ticking time-bomb. And as the nation tragically
learned before September 11th, interrogators often do not know when
they are acting against a ticking time-bomb.
At the signing ceremony Thursday, Obama said,
"The message that we are sending around the world is that the United
States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and
terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so
effectively, and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent
with our values and our ideals."
The actual message Obama sent
is that the United States now places "world opinion" above its own
well-being; that the commander-in-chief of the War on Terror is willing
to grant the other side tactical advantages; that the leader of the
free world acts on image without thinking out the practical
consequences his actions might have for his country or his soldiers.
The only silver lining is the president's hypocrisy. Thursday's signing
ceremony was the triumph of style over substance, of emotional
masturbation over hard-headed analysis, of the politics of guilt over
the duty of self-defense. It was certainly no way to inaugurate a new
era of responsibility.
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