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Writing in the Washington Examiner, Byron York suggests that the prosecution of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is likely to rekindle debate over the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. President Obama is apparently embarrassed that he has not been able to close the prison as promised six years ago and — given his penchant for taking questionable executive action over congressional objections — it’s reasonable to expect him to do something about it in the next few years. There’s no way that ends well.
But while it’d be best for Obama not to get his way on this matter, GITMO’s use as a detention facility — and the political maneuvering around it — should not continue past the next presidents’ term. The prison’s location was clearly chosen less for its geographic advantages — members are welcome to correct me if I’ve missed something, but Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia has long struck me as a superior location in almost every regard that way — than for its unique political situation, being situated on the only spot on earth from which the United States military cannot be evicted that is also not subject to US civilian law. It’s humiliating for the United States military to feel it has to hide its prisoners from civilian courts (though I leave it to readers to decide on their own whether this speaks worse about our military or our courts). Comparisons to a gulag are offensive on many levels, but that’s hardly an endorsement of the situation.
Adding to the circus has been our nation’s inability to prosecute the prisoners, even under the relatively easy standards of evidence and proof afforded by the military tribunals set-up nearly a decade ago. Indeed, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s military trial is yet to even start. Unless something changes the situation — which, again, I doubt will be a good thing under President Obama — it’s likely that his detention will span at least three presidencies without resolution.
That’s more than long enough. There is no good reason to hold these prisoners indefinitely: whatever intelligence value they had has long since expired, and most people — self included — argue that it would be wrong to exchange them for American hostages, be they deserters like Sgt. Bergdahl or modern-day Sgt. Yorks. If the remaining prisoners truly are “the worst of the worst” then figuring out how to safely detain, morally interrogate, legally try, and humanely execute those found guilty should be well within our ability, certainly after all this time.
The Republican candidates for president should get in front of the issue so that we can better put it behind us and — hopefully — stop the president from making the matter any worse than it already is. Among their policy proposals, each should present a plan for dealing with the remaining detainees swiftly and figuring out how to deal with any future ones in a way that doesn’t cause a decade-long political fracas both at home and abroad.Published in