Now what?

Our new President has moved to fulfill one of his campaign promises: Getting the prisoners, no few of them hard-core terrorists, out of our detention center at Guantánamo. This he did in the absence of any plan as to where the displaced guests might be transferred, as if their Guantánamo location was in and of itself the problem. We have no word, either, on what might be done with any newly captured enemy combatants after they have been requested to give their name, rank and serial number according to the rules of the Army Field Manual. I suspect this is not actually good news for any of them, since the obvious choice is to turn them over to such authorities as may be readily at hand in the country where they are captured.

Since the President has had a lot of time to ponder the Executive Order’s justification, content and timing, and is revered for his judgment above just about everything except his rhetorical flourishes and buff pectorals, announcing this decision without knowing how to implement it seems more base pleasing expedience than part of a plan designed to maintain national security, “restore US dignity,” “return to Constitutional principles” (which, in any case do not apply) or make other countries like us again. Furthermore, the President is well aware, even if his most avid supporters claim not to be, that George Bush wanted to close the Gitmo detention center, but was variously stymied by Congress, our own justice system, and the refusal (or deadly intent) of other countries to accept those detainees who already qualify for release. Bush was rightly wary of bringing terrorists into the US criminal justice system.

Gitmo’s detainees probably will be “released,” in some sense, on Obama’s timetable. Whether this will prove to have been a good idea is an open question. Take two examples from recent headlines:

Freed by the U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

Al-Shihri is one of more than 60 persons (of a total of over 500) already released from Gitmo who have returned to trying to kill Americans. Those people were released on the presumption, by the military, that they did not pose further threat. This proves, if anything, that our military justice system has applied high standards to justify continued incarceration. They erred on the side of presumed innocence far too often for this to be otherwise.

Sleeper Agent

What will Obama do with the only enemy combatant held on U.S. soil?
by Thomas Joscelyn

AS ONE OF HIS FIRST acts as president, Barack Obama ordered his new cabinet to review the case of Ali Saleh Khalah al Marri, the only “enemy combatant” held in the continental United States. On Thursday, January 22, President Obama ordered his executive branch to undertake “a prompt and thorough review of the factual and legal basis for al Marri’s continued detention, and identify and thoroughly evaluate alternative dispositions.”

Al Marri’s case has long been a source of controversy. Human rights groups and critics of the Bush administration charge that he is held illegally, and that he should be prosecuted in a federal court. The Bush administration countered that al Marri was a plotting al Qaeda operative who could be held indefinitely until the end of the “war on terror.” Al Marri’s status has been repeatedly challenged in the U.S. courts, with the critics winning some rounds and the Bush administration others. Obama’s order means that his cabinet members and their attending departments will now have to determine what, if anything, to do with al Marri, who is currently being held at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

Beyond the legal wrangling, however, there are some important angles to al Marri’s story that Obama’s cabinet should explore. First, and foremost, al Marri’s case underscores the gravity of the terrorist threat, including the depth of deception al Qaeda employs in its attempts to kill Americans. Second, al Marri’s story sheds light on how the Bush administration utilized “enhanced” interrogation techniques to uncover the details of al Qaeda’s plotting.

It is reasonable for a new president to review a long standing and sensitive case like Al Marri’s before making any decisions about the continuing disposition of it. Especially where it represents an area of major disagreement with the outgoing administration, sober second thoughts must apply. However, since it precisely illustrates one of the well-known potential problems of moving detainees out of Gitmo – what happens when enemy combatants are brought to US soil – one might expect the results of the review to inform any decision about moving them rather than, as seems likely now, the other way around. If Obama already had a solution for this problem, his embarrassing question to his White House counsel about what exactly his own executive order contained could have been avoided:

By Michael P. Tremoglie, The Bulletin

…The Obama administration is unsure of much of the details of their own policies regarding the capture, interrogation and imprisonment of terrorist suspects.

During the signing ceremony, Mr. Obama was unsure of what was specifically contained in his own Executive Order. He had to ask White House Counsel Greg Craig if there would be a separate order for disposing of the inmates.

We all do hope President Obama is successful in his resolution of the problems represented by terrorists captured on the battlefield; problems compounded by his rush to accomodate those suffering residual Bush Derangement Syndrome. We also hope he is resolute in preventing any remaining Al-Shihri’s from being freed because they weren’t read their Miranda rights.

1 thought on “Now what?”