Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Originally published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies 1/13/10


In truth, it will be far more difficult for the president to accept that his decision to close Guantanamo was wrong than it will be for him to explain a reversal of the policy. Here, the spin is easy – it has the unusual virtue of being true.

Obama has consistently maintained that he would not endanger American security in implementing his policies vis-à-vis al-Qaeda and its allies – he could hardly have done otherwise. That being the case, he need only acknowledge that one of the fundamental aspects of his Guantanamo closure policy – the ability to transfer most of the detainees either to their own countries or to third countries for “rehabilitation” – has not worked out as he had hoped and expected. The only way of closing Guantanamo and ensuring U.S. security interests would be to bring the entire detainee population into the United States, which he never planned to do. Therefore, Guantanamo will have to remain open pending further review of detainee repatriation opportunities and policies.

The problem, of course, is that Mr. Obama’s base spent nearly eight years claiming that Guantanamo was inherently evil and that it was a stain on the nation’s reputation attributable to George W. Bush’s insatiable desire to concentrate power in his own hands regardless of individual rights.

The Bush policy was, of course, neither evil nor unlawful, and any “stain” has always been more imaginary than real. But too many of Bush’s critics came to believe their own propaganda, and changing these beliefs will be hard. Nevertheless, the presidency is a hard job – so Mr. Obama had best get to it.


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