It appears that Barack Obama will make closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay an early order of business for his administration. The prison has been so tainted in U.S. and world opinion and so damaging to the United States’ reputation that it is simply not worth keeping.
The problem is what to do with the 250 or so prisoners who remain there. Those who are cleared for release should be repatriated — if we can find a country willing to take them.
The rest will have to be brought to mainland prisons, as politically unpopular as that will be. Those we can try in federal courts should be. Others could face court-martials in the military justice system as called for in the Geneva Conventions.
One hopes that those trials will show that we just didn’t go around the world, snatching people for no reason. How the rest of the world feels about the process to date was neatly summed up to the Associated Press by Waleed Alshahari of the Yemeni embassy in Washington:
“If the U.S. government has any evidence against them, they would try them and put them in jail. But it has been obvious that they have nothing against them. That is why they have not faced trial.” After seven years, you do have to wonder.
There is a legitimate concern about disclosing in open court the identify of CIA operatives, foreign agents working on our behalf, the cooperation of foreign governments and intelligence sources and methods.
In trying to do this, the Bush administration went overboard and stripped the prisoners of so many rights they were basically facing kangaroo courts. Surely the Justice department, cleaned out of the sort of political hacks who produced the torture memos, and the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees can devise protections that will balance the competing interests.
The most difficult part of closing Guantanamo will be bringing them to the mainland. Proponents of keeping Guantanamo open treat the move as if we’re doing the detainees some kind of favor. After they get a look at a mainland super-max prison they may begin agitating to go back to Guantanamo.