Close Gitmo? Doubts Continue to Surface

In a syndicated column that ran on November 28, Dan Rather postulated that “Undoing Guantanamo will be Tricky.” While not news to those who follow this space or have read my new book Inside Gitmo, expressing such thoughts displays a growing sense of uncertainty from a segment of the political spectrum that prior to November 5 was in lockstep for immediate closure. The stark fact may be sinking in: On the afternoon of January 20, Guantanamo belongs to Mr. Obama.

Sullying Rather’s otherwise balanced piece is this segment: “…the treatment of those captured by the U.S. has been, from the beginning, so far out of line with constitutional norms — including torture…” As has a former president who Rather admires, Jimmy Carter, both men assume the worse of America and American service members. In his 2006 interview with Der Spiegel, Carter agreed with the interviewer that Americans were torturing detainees. “When we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo,” he said, then essentially the world is justified in condemning the United States.

Setting aside the issue of torture and abuse, thoroughly addressed in Inside Gitmo, the most pressing issue facing Obama is disposition. As Rather correctly points out, “the central problem is not the prison itself or where it is located, but the rules that govern the fate of its inmates.”

One burning issue is if these detainees are to be brought to trial, then when, where, and under what code? Rather alludes to this issue, and points to at least one sticking point. Time. “Some sort of further modified court system will probably have to be developed, perhaps hewing closer to the civilian model but with allowances made for the extraordinary nature of these prisoners. That will take legislation — and legislative energy from an Obama team already facing an extraordinary set of challenges at home and abroad.” If, and we are already seeing signs that Joe Biden’s prediction of enemies testing Obama is happening even before he assumes office, higher, more urgent priorities dominate the administration’s early days, then simply “closing Gimto” is going to be a huge challenge.

Attempting to get enabling legislation passed in a time of financial and likely international crisis is going to be a more thorny issue than either the Obama team or an activist Congress will be able to tackle. Rather laments that action must happen quickly if the new president “is to make good on that campaign pledge.”

Sensing growing disenchantment from a base that expected the sweeping change and swift action promised during the campaign, it is probable that Obama will make a gesture toward closure, but with the pragmatism he appears to be exhibiting in these early days, is likely to push ultimate resolution out a year or longer.

It will be interesting to follow commentators like Rather and watch how long their patience lasts when a President Obama is forced to deal with situational realities that candidate Obama was able to brush breezily aside.

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