Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama Advisors Craft Plan for Gitmo Detainees

The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and bring suspected terrorists to the U.S. for trial.
Under the plan being crafted inside Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and others would be charged in U.S. courts, where they would receive constitutional rights and open trials. But, underscoring the difficult decisions Obama must make to fulfill his pledge of shutting down Guantanamo, the plan could require the creation of a new legal system to handle the classified information inherent in some of the most sensitive cases. Many of the about 250 Guantanamo detainees are cleared for release, but the Bush administration has not able been to find a country willing to take them.

Not all Democrats are on board with creating a new legal system for the detainees. And Republicans such as Senate Judiciary Committee member John Cornyn of Texas believe that treating terrorism as a mere crime would be a "colossal mistake."

According to the senator, "It would be a stunning disappointment if the one of the new administration's first priorities is to give foreign terror suspects captured on the battlefield the same legal rights and protections as American citizens accused of crimes." Sen. Cornyn added that the Senate overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution last year opposing bringing detainees here. Obama failed to vote on the resolution, however.

Leaving aside the politics, campaign promises, and the symbolism, as a practical matter is it really a good idea from a security standpoint to bring these detainees to the U.S. mainland? Given the existing security problems within America's overcrowded jails, do we want these individuals mixing with the general prison population? Would those terror suspects found not guilty then be released into the local community? It's all well and good to advocate "change," but protecting the American people must remain the highest priority.

The procedures for conducting the trials themselves raises a host of practical problems, as the AP article indicates: "Evidence gathered through military interrogation or from intelligence sources might be thrown out. Defendants would have the right to confront witnesses, meaning undercover CIA officers or terrorist turncoats might have to take the stand, jeopardizing their cover and revealing classified intelligence tactics."

According to an July 2007 account in the Australian press, at least at least 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have been killed or recaptured after apparently resuming their terrorist activities following their release.