Thursday, May 21, 2009

President Obama Learns That There Really Are Ogres Under the Bed. His Solution-Move Them Into a Different Bedroom


Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in today's Wall Street Journal, writes about the welcome development that President Barack Obama has now embraced many of the George W. Bush Administration security measures that he sharply criticized during his presidential campaign. Unfortunately, President Obama has also flip-flopped on his campaign criticism of runaway deficits.

Yet, while the reality of governing has caused President Obama to steer away from some of his campaign positions, he steadfastly adheres to his determination to close the Guantanamo detention camp. Today, he doubled down on that position, despite a 90-6 thumping in the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate the day before, when the Senate refused to authorize funding to close Guantanamo.

The President's position on Guantanamo is quite simply irrational. You would think that Gitmo, like some haunted house in a Stephen King novel, is an inanimate object with malevolent powers. It is not. It is a prison, and one that cost the American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to construct. Its physical facilities are superb and provide a higher level of prisoner amenities than those detainees would find anywhere else in the federal prison system. It has the added virtue of isolation: its location on Cuba renders terrorist rescue attempts virtually impossible; and the high-risk prisoners are kept isolated from the general prisoner population.

Guantanamo is said to be an international symbol for Bush-era prisoner abuse and human rights violations. However, little if any of the alleged human rights violations took place at Gitmo. Moreover, if President Obama were determined to reject Bush Administration policies regarding prisoner hearings and interrogations, he could easily do so with a few strokes of the Presidential pen, without closing down the Guantanamo prison facility. Change the policies, don't close the prison. The prison did not conduct any interrogations, or waterboard a detainee, or deprive a detainee of habeus corpus.

Actually, quite to the contrary of this approach, President Obama has decided to retain the Bush-originated military tribunals for some Gitmo detainees, who could not be effectively tried in the civilian criminal court system, and to continue incarceration of indefinite duration for those particularly high-risk prisoners who cannot be tried in any kind of court but are too dangerous to release.

And so, the President said today that "opening and continuing the military prison set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world." Yet he continues several of the substantive policies that, rightly or wrongly (and certainly wrongly in this writer's opinion) gave rise to the international condemnation of the Guantanamo detention facility.

Again, such an approach is frankly irrational. It has only one possible rationale, and that is that President Obama values image over substance, and believes that the rest of the world does so as well. He believes that the domestic and international left-wing critics of the U.S. will somehow be mollified by the closure of the Guantanamo detention faciilty, even thought many of the detainees will remain incarcerated, and probably under worse physical conditions. This is quite simply the elevation of smoke and mirrors over reality as a political strategy. It is a policy that is bound to fail. It will only enrage the domestic and international critics of the Bush Administration, while justifiably lowering respect for President Obama on the part of those voters who expect rational governance.

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