Eyeing the wrong president

EYEING THE WRONG PRESIDENT…. With Barack Obama closing down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, stories like this are going to generate quite a bit of attention.

The emergence of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

I get the idea behind reports like these — Guantanamo has housed some dangerous folks, and if we let them go, they’ll do dangerous things. Therefore, we better not let them go, and Obama should rethink all of his recent announcements.

Except, the evidence doesn’t match the conclusion. Obama isn’t saying that he wants to just open the Gitmo doors, he saying he wants to review the pending cases and present evidence against the bad guys as part of a legal process. Ali al-Shihri returning to al Qaeda isn’t evidence of a flawed Obama process, it’s evidence of a flawed Bush process. Why did Bush let a dangerous guy this go? Did Bush’s team not consider, I don’t know, bringing charges against him before setting him free?

The same is true with the incessant media fascination with the 61 former Guantanamo Bay detainees who’ve since become alleged terrorists. First, the confirmed number is 18, not 61. Second, even that number isn’t considered entirely reliable.

And third, again, the argument about how this relates to Obama is flawed. As Atrios noted, it wasn’t Obama’s policy that led to their release. The administration created this nightmare at Guantanamo, which was supposedly necessary for U.S. national security. What do we have to show for the former president’s efforts? A series of bad guys who went free, and many more bad guys we’ll struggle to prosecute because the Bush administration broke the law and tortured them.

As John Cole noted, “The moral of this story is not the danger for Obama going forward with his Gitmo decommissioning, the moral is that when venal, shallow, small men are given unfettered power and authority, they do incompetent, stupid, and evil things.”