By Kelly Weist
Leftists all agree that one of the first things the president-elect needs to “change” is the situation at Guantanamo Bay. At least, that’s what they thought prior to the election.
President-elect Obama stated on several occasions that the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay should be closed. Lefties turned it into a cause célèbre, one that they felt perfectly justified in using to shout obscenities about President Bush and Vice President Cheney. In fact, they all wanted to visit upon the president and vice president every incidence of “torture” they could dream up. Funny how the Bush derangement syndrome took over, and leftists fell in love with stone-cold terrorists.
But that’s all over, of course. During the campaign, it was quite all right for Obama, a senator from Illinois, to pontificate over the immorality of a country that tortured innocent shoe-shiners, quel horreur! But with the terrible responsibilities of his new office looming, President-elect Obama finds that the question of Guantanamo is so much more complex. These are people who are extremely dangerous.
Yes, they are. Gitmo was established because of the dangerousness of the people our troops came across while fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. These people clearly were trying to kill Americans and destroy America, but what in the hell do we do with them when they have the bad manners to be captured instead of killed? And the fact that many of them had information about plots against America and her allies was salient as well. Bringing them all to American shores, to stand trial like a common criminal, would not only not serve our clear interests in protecting our interests, but would put millions of Americans at risk by their mere presence. Not an option.
Leftists act like the detainees were all innocents, caught up by an evil war. None of this is true. Leftists then scream about “torture.” First of all, the fun and games that some guards had with the detainees was mild compared to what they would experience in an American prison. And as I’ve said many times, pulling someone’s pants down and taking pictures does not qualify as “torture.”
What does qualify as torture? I think I will shock some of you here, but does it matter? The question really is, what actions are justified in extracting information that will save Americans? This is not an academic question. Answer it while the clock ticks toward an unknown time with an unknown danger. Personally, anything goes at that point.
In an imperfect world, where unspecified numbers of people are trying to destroy you, together and separately, and you have to figure out who, what, where and most importantly when, a place like Gitmo is necessary — as President-elect Obama is just now figuring out. Here’s a prediction: Gitmo, or something exactly like it with a different name, will continue. It has to.
By Hannah Hayes
The “War on Terror” has been the overarching Bush administration excuse for dumping constitutional rights. Guantánamo prison is a shameful symbol of just how far the administration went in its quest for unchecked presidential power while skirting U.S. law. Implementation of the closure of Guantánamo may be tricky, but the principles involved are not.
Defense Secretary Gates is already preparing a blueprint to act on President Obama’s directive. The Pentagon has had a classified contingency plan in place since 2006. For a published “how to,” visit the Internet sites where information is still widely available and search for “Human Rights First.” Read the step-by-step strategy, which minimizes national security risks and details fair prosecution of detainees. Cases will need to be brought to trial, the 60 who have already been ordered released will need to be resettled to avoid torture, and others will need to be repatriated.
The very protections that are held dear in our country must be safeguarded for all who become involved in our legal system, because any loss of guaranteed rights compromises the public good. Possible dangerous consequences from releasing the detainees will have to be faced, but a continuation of this disgrace will provoke even more trouble for our severely damaged country. In addition to prolonged unlawful detainment — for some prisoners up to six years — abuses and torture have occurred at U.S. hands. One wonders if there will ever be any meaningful convictions from among the total 775 detainees. About 420 have already been released, and about 270 remain.
President-elect Obama wisely made a campaign pledge to close Guantánamo, and as his inauguration date coincides with the 2002 opening of this detention camp, January 20, 2009, seems a good day to begin reversing this “human rights scandal.” Not doing so will invalidate his current cachet of international goodwill and alienate him from his supporters.
There is legal and moral backing to take action. In 2004 the Supreme Court dismissed the argument that the naval base is beyond the reach of U.S. law. In 2006 the U.N. issued a report calling for the closure, and Secretary General Kofi Anan said detainees could not be held in perpetuity without charge. Congress’ complicity by allowing hearsay evidence, keeping charges secret and permitting “extended interrogation techniques” through the Military Commissions Act helped delay action. The Supreme Court then announced on June 12, 2008, that Guantánamo prisoners had a right to habeas corpus and that the MCA was an unconstitutional suspension of that right.
The military tribunal system is deeply flawed, and these detainees should be speedily brought into the U.S. justice system. The Obama administration has an opportunity to balance security with the preservation of civil liberties. Beginning on day one with a clear statement that things are going to be different will allow the much-needed spirit of hope to grow.
The things that are dear to our country are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of these things can happen when there are people trying to destroy us. None of our principles states that we have to extend the Bill of Rights to enemy combatants. What Hannah doesn’t want to acknowledge is the whole idea of enemy combatants. The War on Terror wasn’t an “excuse” for President Bush and his administration (and also a dozen countries who are our allies in this endeavor) to lock up innocent people and “skirt the rule of law.” The rule of law says that when enemies are trying to kill you, and are captured in that effort, you have every right to detain them without trial. That’s the law — and common sense, pure and simple.
Even if his crazy anti-Bush supporters will scream, President-elect Obama is learning the realities of the situation. Afghanistan and Iraq don’t want these terrorists back, and no one else does. If we release them, where? Not even Obama wants them here. An election can “change” everything, huh?
In November 2008, the Center for Constitutional Rights released a study on the aftermath of detention at Guantánamo. Here’s an excerpt from the report: “The greatest violence I suffered was nudity,” said one former detainee. “After that, if they killed us, it wouldn’t have been any sorrow for me.” Another said, “The worst experience for me was being forced to take off my clothes and then having my picture taken. You know, we are Afghans and Muslims … I would rather be killed than to be treated in that way.”
The Honorable Patricia M. Wald writes of the interviewees: “I was struck by the similarity between the abuse they suffered and the abuse we found inflicted upon Bosnian Muslim prisoners in Serbian camps when I sat as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, a U.N. court fully supported by the U.S.
Further criminal investigations of Guantánamo, Vice President Cheney and still-President Bush will surely follow. The country Kelly enjoyed over the last eight years is mercifully on its way out. The civilized world rejoices.
Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women. She is an adjunct professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. A recent graduate of Leadership Evergreen with a master’s degree in education, Hayes has remained active in this community through her writing and organizing for 35 years.