Obama: I Will Order Guantanamo Closed … One Day

by Julian Ku

Hold the presses! President-elect Obama will issue an executive order in his first week in office requiring the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay to be closed…or at least the process of planning the closure of Guantanamo to begin…. or the process of thinking about a plan to do something about Guantanamo…or something like that.  AP reports:

President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order his first week in office — and perhaps his first day — to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, according to two presidential transition team advisers. It’s unlikely the detention facility at the Navy base in Cuba will be closed anytime soon. In an interview last weekend, Obama said it would be “a challenge” to close it even within the first 100 days of his administration.

The two advisers said the executive order will direct the new administration to look at each of the cases of the Guantanamo detainees to see whether they can be released or if they should still be held — and if so, where.

Uh, isn’t that what the Bush Administration has been doing over the past four years, at least, during which time they released over 800 of the original detainees at Guantanamo, and what past and future Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been advocating all along?  Will the order scrap the current CSRT system? I doubt it.  The plan, I assume, is to look like the Obama Administration is doing something different, when in fact they are not really going to do anything. If the rest of the world buys into this, then this really is change we can believe in!


8 Responses

  1. No Julian, this is not what the Bush administration has been doing for the past four years.  The current Admin had been trying to use Gitmo as a detention facility/ legal black hole indefinitely. They began to change their tune only when they got alot of pushback, especially from the Surpeme Court.

    As for whether  the ExecOrder would be just like the CSRT, I think the main difference is that this ExecOrder is meant to provide a method for closing down the Gitmo detention facility and processing prisoners along the way.  That’s different than the intent of the Bush Administration, which, rather than finding a method to close Gitmo, was simply seeking to circumvent the Federal Courts for as long as possible.

    So, in sum, the incoming Obama Adminsitration seems to be taking a careful, thoughtful, approach towards a specific goal–closing Gitmo.  And you criticize them for taking too long.  I have the feeling, though, that if Obama had ordered the full closing of Gitmo as of the week after the inauguration, you would have criticized the Obama Administration for being reckless. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but I wonder….

  2. I should have made it clear that I definitely favor the Obama Administration taking time on this. And so my criticism is not of the substance of the apparent Obama policy here, but its disconnect with its own rhetoric and promises. 

    It is simply not true that the Bush Administration has not been trying to close Guantanamo since at least 2006 (see President Bush’s remarks here http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/06/20060614.html
     and probably earlier. Why have they been releasing so many of the detainees?
    Sure there has been pushback from the Courts, which is driving this in part.  But the point of the post is: there is, and never was, any easy solution to what to do with detainees in the war on terrorism. Obama knows this. He just avoided saying that during the campaign. Hence, I predict he will basically follow the same policy here as Bush, but without getting the same kind of abuse.

  3. *Why have they been releasing so many of the detainees?”

    Ha Ha Ha– because it has become so completely obvious that there never any legitimate grounds for detaining most of them in the first place, and equally obvious that nearly every single one has been subjected to systematic abuse and torture for seven years.

    If the Bush administration had wanted to close JTF-GTMO in 2006, it would have been closed in 2006. What they wanted to do was get their kangaroo courts to pay off and stall until they could hand-off to the next Republican administration.

    That said, I don’t think Obama should do anything precipitous other than order both DoD and DOJ to take immediate positive steps to ameliorate conditions at JTF-GTMO for both the detainees and their attorneys. That should include immediately declassifying ALL government information relating to torure and abuse without exception.

  4. I think Julian may be suggesting that the 1-year time table means Obama views Gitmo as a mistake but not a huge moral evil; as malum prohibita not malum in se. If it were unconscionable, he would stop it immediately, and the arguments about the practical difficulties this would raise would be neither here not there.

    One year is the kind of timetable Obama has suggested (optimistically) for withdrawing from Iraq; not for ending coercive interrogation, which he intends to do immediately. So Gitmo is more a mistake of the former than the latter kind in his eyes. If it were truly an evil “law free zone,” as many have suggested, surely it would be better to release the detainees than have this on our conscience another day. Also, his admission that a great many of the detainees are dangerous is in tension with the criticism of Gitmo that it swept up all sorts of innocent random people.

    Speaking of Gitmo, it turns out that earlier this year US had detained some ALLEGED PIRATES on a destroyer for the better part of a year without any charges or legal process for reasons similar to Guantanamo – no where to put them and the difficulty of making actual criminal cases. This detention was not any kind of big secret, and I wonder why it did not attract any criticism.  I would not expect it to be as big a deal as Guantanamo, but it should at least sound some of the same alarm bells that have been ringing so loudly over the latter case.

    I think much of the difference btwn. the reaction to terrorist and pirate detentions is the same as the difference in reaction to detention under the authority of Pres. Bush vs. Pres Obama: differences of perceived motive, good faith, and intent.

  5. The problem with that argument is that a precipitous change might entail worse harms than the status quo, which need not be maintained even if the camp is not instantly shut down.

    One might even suppose that the detainees and their counsel should have some say in the matter. Most of them have legal cases going one way or another, and many of those are moving towards hearings on the merits. The last thing they would want is a change of venue, and what all of them want is substantial relief — which they can be given at Guantanamo Bay just as easily as they can somewhere else.

  6. With respect, that’s a distinction drawn from whole cloth. You can’t conflate a systematic reversal like this with some kind of gradualism which bespeaks normative granularity on the issue. There are myriad issues involved with sorting through dismantling GTMO. Consider the logistics and dealing with the aftermath of torture, due process violation, and settlement of detainees, to say nothing of having to institute adequate substitutionary detainment and terror regime based on the right paradigm. 

    That kind of inherent complexity invites reasonable latitude on time, which if anything, is in harmony with the seriousness and totality of the new White House’s repudiation of the Bush approach. We absolutely cannot infer from the timeframe that some lesser normative importance is attached to correcting the Bush Administration’s approach.

    Also, I must say I detect in Julian’s writing, and that of other conservative legal writers, who have sometimes been lackadaisical in their appreciation of the fundamental breaches of trust and law involved in the Bush Administration years, some kind of longing to assert a moral muddle over this issue, as if by fouling the link between Obama’s parsimony on such issues, and his manifest popular mandate, that they may in turn abate against the tremendous political defeat just endured.

    Against such thinking I can only say wait and see. Obama appointment to the OLC suggests anything but the kind of moral ambiguity that conservatives ironically are indulging to rescue their own recent political history.

  7. Does anyone know anything about where the detainees that were released by the Bush administration went?

    If they didn’t go home, but instead to, e.g., detention centers run by other governments, perhaps the Obama administration can’t shut things down until there is a process in place for all the detainees.  At least, not unless it wants to avoid exchanging the rock for the hard place.  And I’m not entirely sure it wants to grant amnesty to all those detainees the government elects not to charge with criminal activity.

  8. Kate, most were repatriated to their home countries. A few of the Uighurs were given asylum by Albania.

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