Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Way Forward on Guantánamo-- Guest Post By Michelle Ringuette Of Amnesty International


President Obama and prominent members of Congress, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), have rather conveniently started blaming each other for the lack of progress toward closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. But their arguments are self-serving and political: Congress has done little to help, and President Obama doesn’t need their help anyway.

The Fresno Bee, in a May 4 editorial, saw McKeon’s words for what they were, noting that Congress was continuing to put up roadblocks to transferring detainees out of the facility and saying that McKeon’s claim Obama was not putting forward an alternative plan was "stretching the truth, at best." Rep. McKeon and others in Congress who share his views about Guantánamo want to have their cake and eat it, too: at the same time as criticizing the president for his failure to act on the detainees, McKeon argued that "until a better solution is offered, at Guantánamo they must stay."

Senator John McCain meanwhile told Fox News Sunday that he still supported the president in his commitment to close Guantánamo but then presented an argument for why Guantánamo should stay open. "The fact is there's been no coherent plan presented to the Congress of the United States as to how we do dispose of these individuals. And one of them is not to send them back into the fight where they can kill more Americans," McCain said.

So it seems that for once, the words of members of Congress match their actions, because in fact they have imposed restrictions all along on the President’s ability to transfer detainees out and close the prison.

In reality, though, President Obama has no excuse to wait another day to start emptying the prison, because even within the congressional restrictions, there is plenty of wiggle room. As the Washington Post noted in this April 30 editorial, he can use the certification process and waiver provision passed by Congress to resume transfers of detainees. And the plan for closing Guantánamo? That should be simple: each detainee should either be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or released.

When you set the politics aside, the smoke clouding this subject clears right away. As Amnesty International explained in detail in a report released May 3, the Bush Administration had no trouble asserting its executive authority to set up the prison in the first place, an act of muscle-flexing certainly not disowned when the current president took office and aptly mimicked ever since any time the administration, using the Military Commissions Act of 2006, goes to court to prevent detainees from seeking remedy there.

This contradiction calls into question why the administration has proven so reluctant to flex its muscles a little more in order to follow through on the President’s pledge when he took office to close the prison down within a year.

One need only look at the case of Shaker Aamer to see the moral hollowness of the arguments being presented in Washington’s corridors of power. He has been cleared for transfer by two Presidents and the UK government has repeatedly called for him to be free with his wife and children in London. The UK parliament was prompted to debate his case last month after 100,000 people signed a petition demanding his return to his wife and children in London. President Obama can and should resolve this case today.

The cases of all 166 detainees are not identical, of course. But without leadership, the situation will never be resolved. The White House needs to appoint a senior official to oversee Guantánamo’s closure, instruct the Pentagon to avail itself of the certification process and waiver authority Congress has already granted, and start making its international human rights obligations the priority in its decision making on Guantánamo. Those actions would match the President’s words when he said last week, “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop."

Michelle Ringuette
Chief of Campaigns & Programs
Amnesty International USA

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At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Syrbal/Labrys said...

I rather wonder what would happen if people OUTside GITMO began a hunger strike in support of those inside the prison? After all, they could not be force-fed.

It was my first disappointment in Obama that he did not close the prison and he did not start dismantling the security state created by the Patriot Act, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act, the Nat'l Defense Authorization Act and the warrently wiretap enabling Protect America Act.

I worry for agencies like Amnesty International...fearing they will fall afoul of the "material support" clause and end up in legal trouble.


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