A few notes on this administration's latest incoherence:
The president and commander-in-chief had pledged to close the brig at Guantanamo by January 22. So what's he going to do with the prisoners there now? Turn them loose? Surely not. Instead, it's been decided to move the prison, or at least part of it, to a site at Thomson, Ill., on that state's western edge. Call it Gitmo on the Mississippi.
The new site, or at least the part of it that is to house the Gitmo crowd, will still be run by the Department of Defense rather than the Department of Justice. The unlawful enemy combatants held there, though they can no longer be called unlawful enemy combatants under this New Dispensation, will still be treated as such. It sounds as if everything will be the same except the location.
Some of the prisoners at Guantanamo are still to be tried by the kind of military commissions Barack Obama used to denounce when he was in campaign mode last year.
Others, those with the highest profiles, like Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his confederates, are headed for a different and even more troubling venue: a federal courtroom in Manhattan.
Once there, these worthies will enjoy the full panoply of rights and privileges accorded defendants in an ordinary criminal trial. Even at the risk of revealing information about the sources and means of American intelligence.
Some of our guests may already have confessed to the most terrible crimes, have pleaded guilty, and proudly asked to be executed/martyred. But now that fully deserved fate may be still more years and still more appeals away if they ever do get their just deserts. Which grows increasingly doubtful.
Offhand, it's hard to think of another instance in which enemy combatants seized abroad have been granted civilian trials, maybe because there has never been one.
But this administration is nothing if not precedent-setting. And precedent-breaking. There actually is a law forbidding the importation of the prisoners now held at Guantanamo onto U.S. soil, but with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, the administration may have no problem repealing it. Or maybe just ignoring it. Hey, it's only the law.
If there's any rhyme, reason or legal precedent for these latest, confusing moves, it escapes me. Closing the prison at Guantanamo, the country is assured, will deprive al-Qaida and associated terrorist gangs of using it for propaganda purposes to win new recruits. Really? Won't the terrorists simply start denouncing the prison at Thomson, Ill., instead of the one at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
The more enemy propaganda changes, the more it stays the same.
What this administration has yet to grasp is that our enemies need no reason to drum up anti-American feeling in the Muslim world: Guantanamo, Thomson, the very existence of an America in the world. … Any excuse will do.
It's not what we do but who we are and what we symbolize freedom, modernity, tolerance that they hate. And hatred needs no reason. One smear will do as well as another.
Bringing the inmates at Gitmo to the American mainland, we're told, and trying some in civilian courts and others before military commissions, is going to make a big difference. But it's hard to see anything such a change will accomplish. Except to needlessly complicate the law and raising a host of new security concernswhich in turn will require new and expensive security measures.
Why? Is the purpose of all these moves really to enhance national security, or just to enhance the president's political standing with his base, which has made closing Guantanamo an article of faith?
Other than that, it's hard to see any real reason for this ill-formed, disjointed, contradictory, legally troubling and costly plan. Maybe because there isn't one.
Reason would seem to have little if anything to do with this administration's latest incoherence, ideology everything. So it is when reality is eclipsed by dogma, the practical by the political.
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