There is a disturbing similarity between President Obama’s cabinet nominees who "forgot" to pay their Federal income taxes and the President’s Executive Order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in one year: they are all decisions made hastily and without proper vetting and forethought.
There is a major difference, however. The Daschle and Geithner nominations were not "showstoppers" that could cause serious damage to our country; they were relatively minor affairs that will only result in short-term political damage to the president. On the other hand, there are at least five "showstopping" questions the President should have resolved before he decided to close the Guantanamo facility.
Showstopper #1: Are the Guantanamo detainees too dangerous to ever be released? At least some of the detainees are extremely dangerous. They include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who also confessed to beheading Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Pearl; Ramzi Binalshibh, another mastermind of the 9/11 attack; Mohammed Qahtani, believed to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker; Abd al-Rahim Hussain Mohammed al-Nashiri, who orchestrated the 2001 bombing of the USS Cole; Abu Zubaydah, a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle who reportedly was behind a 2000 plot to bomb the Los Angeles Airport; and Abi Faraj al-Libbi, believed to be behind a 2006 plot to blow up civilian aircraft flying from London to the United States.
Action required: The Obama administration must immediately release full details of the Guantanamo detainees in an unclassified form so Americans can better understand the danger they pose.
Showstopper #2: Why are we detaining terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay? Guantanamo was not chosen as a detention location for mere symbolism. The primary reason for detaining terrorist suspects there is the potential threat they could pose to the American public since prison facilities inside the United States would be prime targets for al Qaeda attacks. There also would be the prospect of retaliation against prison guards and their families. Another significant factor is that bringing the Guantanamo detainees to prisons inside the United States could spur legal battles that may not only result in their acquittal but could also allow them to be freed to live in the United States. Moving the Guantanamo terrorist detainees into prisons inside the United States would also give them significantly greater opportunities to command and control their networks through outsiders and to spread radical jihadist ideology.
Action Required: The Obama administration must explain in specific detail how detention in a location other than Guantanamo would better protect the security of American communities and federal personnel.
Showstopper #3: Can U.S. prisons accommodate the Guantanamo detainees? Although the answer to this question is unclear, rising opposition by politicians in states with high security prisons suggest the American people do not want the Guantanamo detainees housed in their communities. Obama officials have raised the possibility of moving the detainees to the ADX Florence "supermax" prison in Colorado. However, Department of Justice statistics indicate that there is only one vacancy available. America’s high-security Federal prisons are already at 150% capacity. Transferring Guantanamo detainees to less-secure Federal or state prisons would raise many other issues, including moving some of the dangerous inmates from these facilities elsewhere.
Action required: The Obama administration must draw up a process where no detainee can be transferred to a U.S. prison without certification and supporting justification by the U.S. Attorney General that the detainee does not pose a threat to the United States, and the assent of state governors. I am introducing legislation to mandate such a process.
Showstopper #4: Can the Guantanamo prisoners be transferred to other countries? This is unlikely, since most detainees who could be transferred to other countries without violating U.S. security or endangering the detainees have already been moved. Many have been cleared for release but remain at Guantanamo because they may be killed or tortured if returned to their home countries. French officials have said that European Union members may be willing to take some Guantanamo detainees who are essentially stateless "only after detailed screening to ensure that they don’t import a terrorist." That is, Europe will only accept "non-dangerous" detainees.
Action required: The Obama administration must release a list of which countries, if any, have agreed to accept Guantanamo detainees. This list should provide full details of any conditions for accepting detainees.
Showstopper #5: What would be the consequences of the release the Guantanamo detainees? To date, the recidivism rate of so-called less dangerous prisoners released to other countries has been high. For example, Saudi Arabia recently released a list of its 85 most wanted terrorists. The list includes 11 former Guantanamo detainees who the United States released to participate in the Saudi "rehabilitation" program. Just last month, there were press reports that another former Guantanamo detainee, Said Ali al-Shihiri, had been named the Deputy Commander of al Qaeda in Yemen and may have been involved in car bombings against the U.S. Embassy that killed 16 people. Yemen has announced it would release 176 suspected to have ties to al Qaeda. This is problematic for the Obama administration since both the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen and Yemeni President Saleh have said that most of the approximately 100 Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo could be returned to Yemen so they could participate in a Yemeni rehabilitation program.
Action required: The Obama administration must release a complete list in unclassified form of released Guantanamo detainees who have returned to terrorist activities. This list should describe to which nation detainees were released, whether they participated in failed “rehabilitation,” and their current location.
Any of the above showstopping questions should have been enough to postpone a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility until the administration came up with a plan to resolve them. I am concerned that the U.S. Government is now blindly racing toward the goal of closing Guantanamo in one year instead of studying the serious consequences of this action. It is time for the Obama administration to pause and take stock of the serious consequences of this decision. Unless the Obama administration can provide good answers to the above questions, President Obama should reevaluate the timing of closing the Guantanamo Detention facility and the possibility that keeping Guantanamo open might be the best option for the foreseeable future.
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