Bush's Gitmo Vindication
Obama still hasn't said where the worst terrorists will go.
President Obama delivered a major speech yesterday on how he intends to prosecute the war on terror (or whatever it's now called), and in particular his desire to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. As rhetoric, his remarks were at pains to declare a bold new moral direction. On substance, however, the speech and other events this week look more like a vindication of the past seven years.
The President's speech came after both houses of Congress had denied his funding requests to shut down Guantanamo and relocate some of the most dangerous prisoners to the U.S. The 90-6 vote in the Senate was especially notable because all but a half-dozen Democrats opposed their own President, on that high-minded principle known as not-in-my-backyard.
So, to the idea that isolated Alcatraz Island could serve as one possible location, California's Dianne Feinstein says it is a historic landmark and instead suggests a prison in another state. But the most state-of-the-art "supermax" prison in America is in Colorado, and this week that state's new Democratic Senator, Michael Bennet, vetoed that idea; as it happens, he's running for election in 2010.
Then there is the voluble Jim Webb, who in January said Mr. Obama had offered a reasonable timeline in ordering Guantanamo closed in a year. But now the Virginia Democrat opposes closing Gitmo anytime soon while observing to ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that "We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases. There are cases against international law." That was the Bush Administration's point all along.
Mr. Obama, for his part, still wants Gitmo closed, and he cited South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham in saying that the idea that the detainees could not be securely held in the U.S. was "not rational." Apparently also irrational is FBI Director Robert Mueller, who this week told Congress that bringing the detainees even to U.S. prisons raised serious concerns, "from providing financing, radicalizing others, [to] the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States."
Yet for all of his attacks on the Bush Administration, which he accused of making "decisions based upon fear rather than foresight," Mr. Obama stuck with his predecessor's support for military commissions, adding some procedural bells and whistles as political cover to justify his past opposition. For the record: Both the left and right, from the ACLU to Dick Cheney, now agree that the President has all but embraced the Bush policy.
Mr. Obama also pledged to release at least 50 detainees to other countries -- about one-tenth the number released under President Bush -- and added that the Administration was in "ongoing discussions" to transfer them. Good luck with that: The Europeans who were so robustly against Gitmo in the Bush years have suddenly discovered its detainees are dangerous. Meanwhile, the countries that might take them, such as Yemen, can't be trusted to prevent them from returning to the battlefield, where they can kill Americans again.
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