Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
A trial for what?
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Among the litany of frustrations President Obama is experiencing in his dealings with Congress is what to do about Guantanamo, and the160 men detained in the prison’s deteriorating facilities. It held 240 men when Obama took office in 2009, and as president he has not sent anyone to Guantanamo. But, like the Syrian poison gas situation, Guantanamo does not lend itself to simple solutions.
Obama tried early in his administration to make the case that Guantanamo is not needed, that America’s prison system with “super-max” prisons already housing the worst of the worst could easily absorb the men from Guantanamo. But Republicans objected, and Obama backed down, and then the American people forgot about it.
The problem is twofold. First, the detainees must be defined. Are they enemy combatants, enemy soldiers, war criminals, terrorists, common criminals, or simply innocents? In the unlikely event they are declared soldiers, they must be given belligerent status, which is covered by the Geneva Conventions. If not, the second problem applies. They must be charged with crimes. But what crimes and against what nation?
Obama has declared the alternative of non-judicial incarceration is unacceptable: “The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity – even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan – the idea that we would still maintain, forever, a group of individuals who have not been tried, that’s contrary to who we are, it’s contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”
A hunger strike staged by 100 of Guantanamo’s remaining prisoners has forced the issue back onto the president’s agenda, and into the media. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” Obama said, defending the Pentagon’s practice of putting the men into solitary confinement and force-feeding them through a tube inserted in the nose to sustain them.
But prisoners that Americans associate with terrorism don’t generate much sympathy. However, of the 100 men participating in the hunger strike, 86 were cleared for release years ago. They were considered low-level detainees, swept up on the battlefield and likely to pose little risk if returned to their home countries, but they’ve been caught up in a vortex that leaves them trapped in a legal limbo. Further, after years of confinement, the “little risk” designation is undoubtedly no longer applicable.
Of the 86 cleared for release, 56 are from Yemen, and when Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, tried to detonate a bomb on a U.S. airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, a plot planned in Yemen, the door was slammed shut on the men who thought they were on their way to freedom.
At his press conference, the president made the case that America’s prison system can handle those men who pose a risk, and that the American people shouldn’t be afraid to put the Constitution to a test and give the remaining detainees a trial. But that’s the rub. A trial for what?
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND