What will they know; when will they know it?

While senator, president-elect Obama had little exposure to intelligence matters. This was by his choice, for he was member of intelligence-related committees and had access. He was running openly for higher office and spent precious little time in the Senate that was not devoted to constructing a support base or building alliances. This is not a criticism necessarily, just a fact. That he won the election handily, defeating the candidate of conventional wisdom, Hillary Clinton, along the way, points out the efficacy of his strategy.

Now, however, that the need for political maneuvering is somewhat past (inside the Beltway, maneuvering is ceaseless), the president-elect and his staff are being splashed with the cold water of reality from the intel community.

While much of that classified material is global in nature, one specific collection of secret intelligence information currently resides among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the facility that Obama has pledged repeatedly to close promptly.

Pointing out some of the issues involved with precipitate closure,Thomas Joscelyn wrote an excellent summary article in the Weekly Standard titled “Clear and Present Danger: The Obama administration is about to discover that the terrorists detained at Guantánamo are there for good reason.” (Hat tip to the great talk radio host and pal Greg Allen.)

Even if, as most of us expect, Obama makes closure of Gitmo one of his first post-inaugural announcements, the full weight of that decision is likely to come crashing down when he is exposed to the nature of the 250 or so detainees still held there.

He will learn of terrorist masterminds like Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Ramzi bin Alsheb, money launderers, al Qaeda recruiters, bomb makers, propagandists, organizers, personal bodyguards for Usama bin Laden, key Taliban leaders, and muscle terrorists who made their bones in Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans, and Western Europe. The information will come as a rude awakening to members of his staff who may have breezily thought that such hard-core, committed jihadists could be released into the US or freed abroad.

Nor will the prospect of “quick trials” in the US criminal justice system be sufficient solution. Because of the difficulty in obtaining proper – by high US court standards – evidentiary material off the battlefield, it may be impossible to build a proper criminal case against some of these men. A further complication is that many are being held because of information obtained from highly classified sources. Disclosure of this material and ultimate compromise of the sources would be necessary in the type of criminal justice system currently in place.

Other concerns such as indefinite detention, relocation and housing either to a US facility or another place entirely, and ultimately being able to deal comfortably with international criticism, are part of the package.

Like it or not, it is about to become Mr. Obama’s Guantanamo, will all the unresolved problems that implies.


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