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Closing GITMO: Is it Soft or Smart?

Posted by Stephen on January 22, 2009

President Obama is expected to sign orders to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Thursday. Supporters say it is a message that America intends on changing their approach to controversial issues in dealing with foreign aggressors, and a first step toward working with other countries on a level the Bush administration did not. Critics fear it’s soft and places American interests in a defensive position.

The swiftness of the action, and the lack of any real consultation by the new administration with anyone in the field, suggests that Obama had this set in stone in his mind long ago.

Under a scenario foreshadowed in the draft orders, some detainees being held at Guantanamo would be released, while others would be transferred elsewhere and later put on trial under terms to be determined. Closing Guantanamo could potentially mean moving the remaining detainees to federal prisons in the U.S., such as the Leavenworth prison in Kansas.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, vehemently opposes that idea. He introduced legislation almost immediately after the draft regulation was announced requiring Obama to provide Congress 90 days’ notice as well as a study that answers specific questions relating to security, logistics and alternatives before taking any action to close the Guantanamo prison or move the detainees.

“We cannot afford to make snap decisions about detainee policy, and the American people should be able to judge any policy changes for themselves,” Brownback said. “This legislation would require an open and comprehensive review of the factors related to moving the Guantanamo detainees.”

Others feel the administration is failing to consider the reason the prisoners are in custody. Families of victims of the 9/11 attacks are outraged at the move.

“I see no reason why we should delay these proceedings. Let justice be served,” said Jefferson Crowther, whose 24-year-old son, Welles, was killed in the Twin Towers after he saved the lives of several others.

Confused and frustrated, families of 9/11 victims spoke out on Wednesday. Many could not understand why current trials had to be placed on hold rather than working simultaneously toward a new policy while completing trials.

Administration officials suggest there’s more to the decision then one group in custody.

“The president has clearly made his intentions well known,” Whitman said. “And he has taken the first steps with respect to his direction to order a pause to military commission proceedings.”

David Rivkin, a constitutional attorney, said he hoped the 120-day review to be undertaken by the Pentagon would lead to “responsible” result, adding that such a decision isn’t just about moving the 245 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, which initially housed more than 800.

“This is about hundreds and thousands of people the United States is likely to capture in future wars .. ongoing wars frankly against Al Qaeda and Taliban. You cannot fight a war without retaining this vital legal architecture,” Rivkin said.

In the end, critics fear knee jerk reactions to difficult circumstances may lead to reckless policies that endanger American lives. Supporters say the closing is essential to sending the message that it will not be “business as usual” in an Obama administration. Supporters claim Gitmo is an open sore and an example of a poorly managed program that has damaged American standing around the world.

Success may depend on President Obama’s ability to reconcile both positions while defining his foreign policy ideology.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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