Retired officers weigh in on Gitmo

RETIRED OFFICERS WEIGH IN ON GITMO…. At this point, the White House (and common sense) can use some help like this.

A group of retired senior military officers on Tuesday backed the Obama administration’s troubled effort to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying that those who oppose transferring detainees to the United States for trial are engaging in fear-mongering.

At a forum on Capitol Hill, the retired generals and admirals argued that shuttering the facility in Cuba is in the strategic interest of the United States because it will destroy a potent propaganda and recruitment tool used by terrorists.

But, they said, the president’s goal has nearly been overwhelmed by fear and misinformation.

The military officers are also opposed to indefinite detention, arguing that detainees should face charges.

John Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral and former judge advocate general, told the Post, “We believe the people going to be prosecuted are not warriors. They are criminals and thugs…. We ought to be using the criminal justice system.”

Noting the nonsense from lawmakers on the issue, Hutson added, “We’re trying to encourage more responsible leadership on this issue. But some don’t want to hear it. They seem more comfortable with the politics of fear.”

Of particular interest, retired Brig. Gen. James Cullen, a former chief judge of the Army’s Court of Criminal Appeals, said, “It’s up to all of us to say these arguments advanced by Cheney and his acolytes are nonsense and that really what they’re doing is undermining our national security by delaying the date at which Guantanamo is closed…. We take a setback every time somebody, whether it’s the vice president or his daughter comes out and says the things that they say.”

Thank you, Brig. Gen. Cullen, for saying what usually goes unsaid.

And in an especially helpful reminder for policymakers, retired Army Gen. David Maddox highlighted my favorite argument: we already have international terrorists in U.S. prisons on U.S. soil, making the complaints absurd. “[Critics of the administration’s policy] say they don’t want them in my city,” Maddox said. “Have they checked who’s there now?”

As a rule, it shouldn’t necessarily matter whether sound policy proposals are endorsed by retired generals and admirals. When debating a strategy on the merits, it’s best to avoid an Endorsement Contest — judging the policy based on competing lists of supporters and opponents.

But in politics, this often matters, and offers “cover” to those inclined to waver. President Obama’s missile-defense policy, for example, was bolstered by the unanimous judgment of the Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And when it comes to Gitmo, we have the arguments of the RNC, the Cheneys, and Fox News on one side, and the considered judgment of more than two dozen retired military officers on the other.