Obama is apparently preparing to carry through on his campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and Bob Gates has instructed the Pentagon to draw up contingency plans for doing so (h/t Kat). Steve Benen and Kevin Drum are both happy that Obama isn't backing away from his promise, and so am I. But the plan seems to involve closing Gitmo within two years, and that's too long.
It means that for two years detainees, many of them innocent of all charges as even the Bush administration nowadays has been forced to admit, will either continue to be subjected to kangaroo courts rebranded as "tribunals" or held in illegal imprisonment if tribunals are suspended. It means that those who ordered illegal rendition, torture, years of imprisonment without trial, repudiation of the Geneva Conventions and the trashing of America's legal system so as to allow evidence obtained by torture to be admissable while habeas corpus pleas were not will have an extra two years to argue by proxy that criminal charges would be politically inadvisable. It will mean two years in which Obama's administration and its foreign policy goals will be tarred abroad with the brush that Bush fashioned, because the rest of the world looks at America and doesn't distinguish as carefully between administrations as do partisan Americans.
And most importantly, it means two more years of the greatest gift to terrorist recruitment, which means more people will die. "Matthew Alexander", the Air Force Major who was an interrogator in Iraq and has been highly critical of "enhanced interrogation" told Scott Horton in an interview published Friday:
The number-one reason foreign fighters gave for coming to Iraq to fight is the torture and abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. The majority of suicide bombings are carried out by foreign fighters who volunteered and came to Iraq with this motivation. Consequently it is clear that at least hundreds but more likely thousands of American lives (not to count Iraqi civilian deaths) are linked directly to the policy decision to introduce the torture and abuse of prisoners as accepted tactics. Americans have died from terrorist attacks since 9/11; those Americans just happen to be American soldiers. This is not simply my view–it is widely held among senior officers in the U.S. military today. Alberto Mora, who served as General Counsel of the Navy under Donald Rumsfeld, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “U.S. flag-rank officers maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq–as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat–are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.”
It's quite possible to close Gitmo far faster. If the U.S. can make a case against any detainee without using illegally obtained evidence, let it do so without delay in either ordinary civilian or military courts with the full panoply of law available. Such accused should be held in normal civilian or military custody while their trials progress For those it cannot, if the U.S. can make a case without using illegally obtained evidence that they would ordinarily be granted admission to the country, let them be deported - again without delay. Anyone not in those two categories should be released without prejudice and citizens of a free nation which upholds certain standards will just have to accept any danger concomittant with restoring those standards which the Bush administration has so widely trampled. We accept the same danger of further crimes every time an accused murderer or rapist is tried and might be aquitted, or is released on technical grounds because the normal course of law was not followed - as we should - so what's the problem? That is the only answer consistent with the universal rule of law, and could be implemented on Day One.
Crossposted from Newshoggers