Before President Obama continues to make such drastic decisions regarding Guantanamo Bay, he should clearly delineate plans for its detainees rather than attempt to reform this country’s ethical standards in one fell swoop. Impulsively trying to contrast his administration with the Bush administration through symbolic gestures in the first days of his presidency could be costly in the long run.
Last Thursday, Obama issued executive orders to, among other things, close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year. The president said the move was intended to return America to the “moral high ground,” which is certainly an admirable objective and undoubtedly the right direction this country should head in as a major player in global affairs.
Problem is, he’s not quite sure what to do with the remaining 245 inmates.
The assumption is that many of them will be brought onto American soil, but so far none of the Democratic lawmakers who supported Obama’s decision have offered up their districts or states. After all, the idea of promoting the moral high ground is a lot easier when you don’t have to relocate alleged terrorists near your constituents.
What’s more, instances of torture and violations of the Geneva Convention at Guantanamo do not negate the fact that many of the inmates are being detained because they pose a threat to the United States and countries around the world. One example of a former Guantanamo detainee who returned to terrorist activities following his release in 2005 is Abdallah Ali al-Ajmi.
Last April, he blew himself up in a suicide attack that killed 12 people in Iraq.
Or how about the two former jihadists who, after being released from Guantanamo and a Saudi rehabilitation program, joined the Yemini branch of al-Qaida and were subsequently arrested by Saudi authorities? Should men like these really be in our country? Or worse, should they be re-released into the world only to become suicide bombers and shed more innocent blood?
Obama’s motives are right: “Observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” But rather than impulsively issuing executive orders, the president can preserve those core standards by reforming the way we treat detainees: eliminate torture as a means of gathering intelligence; educate the guards who work at Guantanamo on ethical treatment of prisoners; work to expedite the legal process so guilty inmates like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed can be rightfully prosecuted, and innocent ones defended and ultimately freed. In short, have a plan of action.
But by all means, don’t sacrifice safety for a better night’s sleep just because taking the “moral high ground” feels right. These are different times, and they call for a compromise between ethics and decisive action.
On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama frequently criticized Bush for being unprepared for war in Iraq. But now the new president is repeating the mistakes he once condemned by issuing executive orders without a game plan. In trying to distinguish himself from the very aspects of the Bush administration he campaigned against, Obama is irresponsibly placing the country, and the world, in harm’s way.