Obama makes the case on Gitmo

OBAMA MAKES THE CASE ON GITMO…. The Senate has been reluctant to follow President Obama’s lead on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. I’m assuming lawmakers were paying attention to the president’s speech today.

“There is … no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law — a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

“So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year.”

Of course, that’s the easiest part of the case to make.

Obama noted that this system that he’s trying to clean up is a nightmare that he inherited, not one he created: “We are cleaning up something that is — quite simply — a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant — almost daily — basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.” He added that the debate over what to do with detainees isn’t the byproduct of his decision to close the facility — it would have been necessary anyway, given court rulings under Bush.

The president went on to note the political dynamic: “Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country.”

Republicans, I think he’s talking to you.

Obama also took the most common of conservative talking points.

“[W]e are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders — highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal ‘supermax’ prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said: ‘The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.'”

So, what happens next? Obama said there will be five groups. The first includes trying those who’ve have violated American criminal laws in American federal courts, something we’ve already done with success before. The second group will be those who’ve “violated the laws of war and are best tried through Military Commissions.” The president said his improved legal framework will add legitimacy to the process and keep in line with the rule of, though it’s clearly a debatable point. The third group is made up of people who’ll be released in response to court orders. The fourth will be sent overseas.

And then there’s a fifth group who “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people,” which includes those who’ve received training at al Qaeda training camps. Obama said, “We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”

He was a little vague on the details. I’m not surprised — Obama was describing a system of indefinite detention without charges. He added that his administration would submit such a system to checks and balances, and “will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.”

Good luck with that.