President Obama’s top counter-terrorism aide, Deputy National Security Advisor Lisa Monaca, said this past weekend at the Aspen Security Conference that the White House is preparing for another push to close Guantanamo, including a plan to move detainees into the U.S. mainland.
While she cited grossly exaggerated costs per detainee, here’s an actual fact that Team Obama isn’t telling us, far more important than just dollars and cents:
Our courts will have the final say on whether they remain locked up, not the administration. And if other countries won’t take them, they could just walk out of jail. Detainees don’t have to escape from Supermax if judges let them out.
And since nearly half of the current 116 detainees have been held under indefinite detention status, activist judges would line up for jurisdiction.
“Try them or release them,” has been the rallying cry for Al Qaeda’s defense lawyers for over a dozen years. Makes sense, right? Maybe so during peacetime, before mass casualty terrorist attacks like those on 9/11.
But America remains at war. Since there weren’t battlefield detectives collecting evidence from global jihadists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, military or civilian trials might not obtain convictions. Which doesn’t make those men any less dangerous, just less prosecutable.
Obama and his legal advisers know the courts routinely pummeled the Bush administration on detainee cases, including multiple losses at the Supreme Court. They ought to know, since 9 lawyers who represented Al Qaeda were rewarded with senior political posts in the Obama administration.
When I served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005-2009, our DoD General Counsel’s office, working in tandem with the Justice Department, reminded me of a piñata. But instead of kids bashing away to free candy, it was judges hammering to free detainees.
One case that has direct applications to today’s prospect of Gitmo closure is Al Marri v. Bush.
Ali Al Marri was a Qatari national with a U.S. green card, believed to be an Al Qaeda sleeper cell agent, trained in advanced poisons for use against water reservoirs. Captured in Peoria, Illinois, and then held indefinitely at the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, Al Marri assembled a team of lawyers who argued that President Bush didn’t have the authority to hold him without trial.
Well, Al Marri won. While terrorism charges didn’t stand up in court, he was convicted of credit card fraud and served a short sentence in a civilian prison. It was like busting Al Capone for tax evasion. Al Marri is now a free man in Qatar.
If Al Marri could beat the federal government in court, dozens of Gitmo terrorists with less evidence against them will too. But what if other countries won’t take them? Then what?
The White House is also misleading about Gitmo’s cost, claiming $3 million per detainee, per year. Yet they don’t mention the primary expense is 2,000 troops guarding them, providing legal services and medical care. That’s the same number deployed to handle the total of 780 detainees, so it’s deliberate overkill. Taken together with 4 catered halal meals a day, Ramadan feasts with roasted meats and imported dates, expensive exercise equipment, Wii-fits, satellite TV, etc. Obama deliberately keeps that cost high to score political talking points.
Shouldn’t Americans ask Obama why he would risk freeing them into our country, when nearly 1/3 are already confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorism?
In my view, he sees Guantanamo as a symbol of the America he’s determined to transform. To him, Gitmo equals U.S. overreach, the “empire” acting through brute force. Above the law, as they say. And that’s not just holding radical Islam-inspired terrorists. That also extends to “occupying” 45-square miles of Cuba against the will of Havana’s leaders.
Obama is desperate to empty Gitmo, let the chips fall where they may, because he wants to return the Naval Base to Cuba. Even though it’s been a strategically important military base for Americans, leased since 1903, complete with a deep water port and airfield, he views it as the left in Latin America does – a sign of Yankee imperialism.
Though the White House says they won’t cave to Raul Castro’s demands for the base, they have zero credibility on the issue. That’s because Ben Rhodes of the National Security Council went behind the backs of Congress and the American people to conduct the normalization of relations agreement last year in secret, in Canada. Rhodes and this same NSC also blamed the Benghazi terrorist attack on a video. Can we trust anything they say?=
Bottom line, closing Gitmo and giving it back to Cuba is all part of Obama’s legacy. He extends olive branches to terrorists and appeases dictators for little to nothing in return, designed to usher in a new, post-U.S. superpower status era. As America gets weaker with $1 trillion in defense cuts, our enemies get stronger. Is that what he meant by hope and change?
Gordon is a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009, during which time he visited Guantanamo Bay Naval Base over 30 times.