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Posted by on Jan 23, 2009 in At TMV | 31 comments

Ideas Have Consequences: The Closing of Guantanamo

Someone in the Obama Administration has to be thinking this was just bad timing:

The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterintelligence official.

To have this come out the same day that Obama ordered Gitmo to be closed in a year’s time is not good. But it does highlight the problem that Obama faces. Yes, closing Gitmo is a good idea, but what do you do with the people who are there? Not all of these people are simply people at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s not a secret that Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of America. But the other side of that coin is that there are people who do seek to do harm. The question remains how to close the camp without sending people back to their homeland to do ill.

Maybe that’s why Obama wants a year to do this.

Crossposted at NeoMugwump

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  • Glenn Greenwald pretty much rips this NY Times article to shreds:

    Lovely that the Times used a single anonymous source for the article and is able to provide striking organizational details about Al Qaeda. “Deputy Leader of the Yemeni branch”… ha. Not that it couldn’t be true, but right now it just seems like the usual fear mongering.

    The truth of the matter is that we have to put these people on trial, in courts that observe bans on coerced evidence, or let them go. It’s that simple. Maybe some criminals and terrorists will be let go.

    Maybe we created a few terrorists out of people who weren’t. That doesn’t matter. No government should be able to indefinitely detain prisoners without proving their guilt. And no, we shouldn’t change the rules of justice so we can find them all guilty. That’s not justice, that’s just a charade.

  • AustinRoth

    “No government should be able to indefinitely detain prisoners without proving their guilt.”

    Couldn’t agree more with that statement. Of all the aspects of the War on Terrorism, that is the one that gives me the greatest concern.

  • Silhouette

    “To have this come out the same day that Obama ordered Gitmo to be closed in a year’s time is not good”.

    So, in order to get their fellows freed from Gitmo, suddenly one of them conveniently…the same day even : )…comes out to “prove” to the new administration that we cannot possibly close Gitmo.

    I offer that Bin Ladens are longtime friends of the Bushcos. I offer that Osama just conveniently popped up his head from his protected rabbit hole (who’s protecting him? ; ) ) to support the Gaza/Iran ruse…ended abruptly for American festivities. I offer that in order to prosecute Bushco, we need ourselves to close Gitmo. I offer that Bushco and their turbined buddies might conspire to keep Gitmo open so that their prosecution won’t happen.

    Of course it all just could be a coincidence. But from their continuing antics and their whining vehemence concerning not wanting Obama’s Attorney General in….and the RIDICULOUS coincidence of one of the terrorists resurfacing THE SAME DAY of Obama’s announcement to “prove” we cannot close Gitmo…right on the heels of Bushco knowing prosecution is looming. These kangaroo-intelligence thugs Cheney hired really don’t understand how intelligence works. (Hint: you wait at least a week to make one of your rabbits pop from the hole to make it look unrelated…stupidos! )

    Do you really need more than a kindergarten education to follow the breadcrumbs back to Bushco hiding behind the woodshed?

  • Marlowecan

    Greenwald does not actually engage with the NYT article. Instead, he baits-and-switches, and shifts the focus pretty quickly away from the fact that this guy returned to jihad.

    We know definitely – and Greenwald knows as well – that former inmates of Gitmo freed by Bush, have returned to the battlefield.
    Last year, there was the case of a former inmate who did a suicide bombing in northern Iraq…killing a number of Iraqi policemen.
    The Pentagon even puts the number of former inmates returning to the struggle against the West at 61. Who knows if this number is accurate?
    But we know several former inmates by name who have returned to jihad.
    Greenwald cannot deny this. It is a matter of public record. Instead, he shifts the focus to the debate over imprisoning jihadists in the US.

    This whole issue is a clear problem for Obama. It will be a PR nightmare for his administration – given the prominence it has given to closing Gitmo – if someone freed from Gitmo returns to the battlefield and kills US troops. Hence, Obama is proceeding with caution here. What is so wrong about that?
    The NYT is providing him with cover for his caution.

    Greenwald, however, does make an EXCELLENT case for trying and imprisoning bad guys in the US. He cites numerous examples of nasty characters who can’t blow up anyone, as they are currently in US prison.
    Clearly, this is the preferred option for everyone.

    There is, however, the very real problem of the Jihadists whom the government knows to be jihadists, but the evidence for which is likely inadmissable in courts of law.
    This may be a minority.
    Certainly the Bush Administration freed a number…presumably with weak evidence against them…who have returned to fight against the US.

    What do you do in such cases?

  • Marlowecan


    There are obvious parallels with the battle against organized crime here. Law enforcement knowing certain individuals are likely guilty of heinous crimes…but facing challenges in getting evidence and convictions.
    Often it is necessary to release individuals whom everyone knows full well are guilty of many crimes (recall, for example, the Teflon Don).
    Moreover, the battle against organized crime occurs in an environment in which police have near-ideal circumstances for getting evidence. . .unlike in Afghanistan or Iraq.

    Another BIG difference, however, is that organized crime figures have a low bodycount in comparison with jihadists. . .and criminals often murder other criminals as equally as innocents.
    A suicide bomber, in contrast, can kill dozens of innocents in a single moment. The Jihadist dream, of course, is massive body count and resulting terror that comes from blowing up a train station, an airliner etc.

    These are compelling issues, I would argue. The Obama administration is proceeding with appropriate caution.

  • casualobserver

    The question remains how to close the camp without sending people back to their homeland to do ill……….just one of many examples of “Dems Dilemma 2009”.

    Dems have spent 8 years developing a political agenda largely out of “We won’t do that anymore” and now they have to deliver on the alternative.

    Maybe some criminals and terrorists will be let go……………let’s see how that one plays in Peoria a year or two from now…….say good by to the swing voter.

    I offer that Bin Ladens are longtime friends of the Bushcos…………I didn’t realize Rosie O’Donnell was in the house!

  • Silhouette

    It sounds so pretty the way you spin it Marlowecan!

    Here’s my spin: Bushco knows closing Gitmo is the precursor to their prosecution. Ergo, any attempts to do so will be spun to look like a horrible idea…from whatever angle the spin can work it.

    More disturbing yet is that erstwhile “enemies” of the Bushco administration…arab terrorists, are seeming to perform on cue….at the “alert” of “concerned intelligence officials”.

    Yes, very disturbing how timely these actors pop on the scene at the seeming behest of Bushco…

    This monster may be quite a bit bigger than any of us ever would imagine. Americans? Domestic statesmen? Conspiring with arab terrorists for BigOil agendas? Is it possible? Money IS the bottom line of the GOP????


    “If you do business with terrorists, if you support or succor them, you will not do business with the United States,” said President Bush.

    He didn’t say anything about doing business with a terrorist’s brother – or his wealthy financier.

    When President George W. Bush froze assets connected to Osama bin Laden, he didn’t tell the American people that the terrorist mastermind’s late brother was an investor in the president’s former oil business in Texas. He also hasn’t leveled with the American public about his financial connections to a host of shady Saudi characters involved in drug cartels, gun smuggling, and terrorist networks.

    Doing business with the enemy is nothing new to the Bush family. Much of the Bush family wealth came from supplying needed raw materials and credit to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Several business operations managed by Prescott Bush – the president’s grandfather – were seized by the US government during World War II under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

    On October 20, 1942, the federal government seized the Union Banking Corporation in New York City as a front operation for the Nazis. Prescott Bush was a director. Bush, E. Roland Harriman, two Bush associates, and three Nazi executives owned the bank’s shares. Eight days later, the Roosevelt administration seized two other corporations managed by Prescott Bush. The Holland-American Trading Corporation and the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation, both managed by the Bush-Harriman bank, were accused by the US federal government of being front organizations for Hitler’s Third Reich. Again, on November 8, 1942, the federal government seized Nazi-controlled assets of Silesian-American Corporation, another Bush-Harriman company doing business with Hitler.

    Doing business with the bin Laden empire, therefore, is only the latest extension of the Bush family’s financial ties to unsavory individuals and organizations. Now that thousands of American citizens have died in terrorist attacks and the nation is going to war, the American people should know about George W. Bush’s relationship with the family of Osama bin Laden.
    I learned how to read in kindergarten!

  • Marlowecan

    Sil… I don’t think the NYT would do favors for Bush. If anything, I would argue the article provides cover for Obama in being cautious.

    I believe Bush was irresponsible in releasing some of these jihadis…who we know have returned to blowing people up.
    But Bush – maybe because he was extreme in advocating for Gitmo and its processes – seems to have gotten off without much criticism for this.

    Obama, I would argue, will be very criticized if the same thing happens on his watch…maybe because he has been so opposed to Gitmo.

    Anyhow, there is nothing wrong in Obama being cautious.

  • DLS

    “We know definitely – and Greenwald knows as well – that former inmates of Gitmo freed by Bush, have returned to the battlefield. ”

    Indeed. This is the real problem we face, not the legal farce associated with the detention and the “trials.”

    This was the subject of a local Detroit-area talk show yesterday. And plenty of normal people exist here — evidence being the broad lack of sympathy _here_ in Detroit metro, for the Detroit automakers and their self-made predicament they face endangering their survival.

    In the case of this talk show and the issue of Guantanamo, plenty of callers were normal, and straightforward: We’re likely to return to the normal, logical, and legal previous conduct we engaged in in earlier wars, and that would be to promptly execute any terrorist caught and proven to have committed terrorism against us. Illegal combatants, terrorists, “francs-tireurs,” pirates don’t have the rights formal military members have.

  • Silhouette

    Define “terrorism”.

    Would it include fiscal sabotage? Conspiracy to lie to Congress? Domestic rebellion circumventing the US Constitution?

    Ah, then we agree…terrorists should be dealt with harshly… The laws of treason apply.

    Close Gitmo. Prosecute Bushco.

  • DLS

    “Anyhow, there is nothing wrong in Obama being cautious.”

    Only fools expect and demand that Obama close the camp in Cuba yesterday, and release everyone as soon as he could do so (i.e., already).

    There’s a reason why so many home countries of these prisoners don’t wish to see them return.

  • DLS

    Sil, don’t be silly. We know what terrorism is, and we know what the distinction is between the military of a nation and terrorists, guerrillas, pirates, and so on.

  • Silhouette

    Yes, I’m being “silly”…silly silly silly….silly me.

    And yet, did you read the Bush family legacy link? All those “silly” ties between the Bush family and “silly” enemies of our country.

    Silly silly silly me…

  • There is, however, the very real problem of the Jihadists whom the government knows to be jihadists, but the evidence for which is likely inadmissable in courts of law.

    If the government “knows” it, then it is their burden to prove it in a court. That’s how it works in a free country.

    If you can’t prove their guilt without torturing a confession out of them, or using some other dubious evidence, then you don’t “know” that they are jihadists.

  • CStanley

    Chris, are you at all familiar with the rules regarding chain of evidence in criminal prosecutions? If so, you can’t seriously think that those rules could be followed in these situations. I don’t have a problem with people pushing back to try to establish a modicum of fairness, but at least acknowledge that serious problems exist which would prevent us from detaining or holding terrorists. If that’s a tradeoff that you feel we have to make, then have the cajones to say so rather than pretend we can read Miranda rights to people captured in Waziristan.

  • CStanley,
    Terrorists have been convicted before in US courts, are you now saying that it’s impossible? We’re talking about putting people in prison for the rest of their lives, you better be damned sure they’re guilty.

  • CStanley

    It doesn’t have to be impossible to convict SOME in order to know that MANY will not be convicted under a criminal justice system, Chris. Our criminal justice system is designed to protect civil liberties to the extent that we know that some criminals will go free. That’s by design, and if that’s what you advocate in regard to terrorists captured abroad, then just have the guts to say so and then own the consequences. I realize that some people dispute that we’re actually enagaged in a war on terror, and I think that’s a reasonable debate to have because it’s complex (open ended, poorly defined.) But if we’re going to engage terrorists on their home turf, we have to realize that we’ll have much less success in making charges stick if we insist on your rules of detainment.

    What do you think about the air strike in Pakistan today? How do we know that the targets hit there were guilty? Should their rights be different than those of the detainees who’ve been captured and shipped to Gitmo?

    Besides, the 9/11 commission pointed out many flaws of the criminal justice system even in the cases where convictions were obtained.

  • Silhouette

    Oh, we’re engaged in a war on terror all right. No one is disputing that. What is in dispute is who the actual terrorists are, a bunch of turbined hooligans that seem to show up on cue to the benefit of Bushco’s Oil agendas and no-getting-prosecuted agendas, and/or a group of highly organized infiltrators of the US goverment hellbent on unravelling the very foundation of our country, The Constitution, and on sabatoging our fiscal stability.

    Bush’s family, the three-generational skull and bones family, aided and abetted nazis in WWII, you know, THE ENEMY. And now we find Dubya with ties to Al Qaida via his financial dealings with the Bin Laden family and other people who bankroll Al Qaida.

    So yeah, there’s a war on terrorism, and that’s exactly why Gitmo has to be closed, even with all its complications… it must be done. We need to get to the bottom of the identity of the terrorists and the extent of the DAMAGE they have done undermining our country.. The World Trade Center was just first blatant manifestation of a long history of Bushco treasonous traditions..well…there was the Vietnam war under Bush Sr. of the CIA….and the abetting the nazis thing from grandpa Prescott Bush…

  • CStanley,
    There’s two issues here. One is that you’re operating from the wrong perspective. You’re starting with the assumption these people are guilty and looking for a way to convict them by relaxing rules or whatever. That’s wrong, and we should air on the side of caution when we’re in the business of destroying people’s lives.

    Secondly we have the Military Commissions setup by Bush and the Congress that are nothing more than kangaroo courts. That’s why prosecutors and judges are resigning left and right rather than take part in them. They allow evidence obtained by torture.

    Personally, I don’t care if we try these people under some international legal system, the US Court system or the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As long as the system is applied equally to all detainees, gives prisoners habeas rights and doesn’t allow for coerced evidence to be admitted.

  • CStanley

    Chris: I get that there’s a presumption of guilt and that’s problematic- but my point is that that’s always the case in war. That’s why I asked your opinion about airstrikes killing suspects- OK or not?

  • Silhouette

    I know that question is for Chris but if I may…

    It depends on the intelligence sources. If they’re from legitimate CIA agents who took their sworn oath to defend the Constitution or the kangaroo group Cheney assembled that met behind closed doors…and away from oversight within the CIA….

    That would weigh on whether or not airstrikes were legitimate or called for..

    “Cooked intelligence” is illegal and gravely so if it leads to the deaths of thousands of innocents and ruins the economy of the US.

    Close Gitmo, prosecute Bushco…

  • CStanley

    Well, Sil, how is anyone supposed to know which sources were legit and which were not? Why do all who want to close Gitmo focus on those who’ve been captured like that rather than those who have been killed in strikes based on intel? Why would there be more likelihood that those were ‘legit’ vs the intel that led to the capture of the detainees?

  • I think that one thing that’s missing here — an important thing — is this: why in the world would this reflect badly on Obama? (I understand the logic, but let’s really get down to the point here.) This guy who is supposedly in Yemen now stirring up trouble was captured by Bushies, and then was tortued by Bushies, such that he couldn’t possibly be convicted, and then was let go by Bushies. How on Earth could Bush f*ck up so badly on this??? If Gitmo didn’t exist, and this whole crap system of “enemy combantants” held for years and years without trials didn’t exist, this guy would have been arrested when there was evidence to arrest him, this evidence would have been used in a court of law in a trial, and the guy, if found guilty, would be in jail, maybe with a death sentence — not back in Yemen. If anything, this shows how GOOD an idea it is to close Gitmo. So that legitimate criminals won’t be tortured and then let go.

    Yes, now there’s a big problem cleaning up the mess made by extra-legal activities of the past administration — we know that to be the case for many things — and I don’t want to see legitimate criminals go free any more than anyone else, but let’s not set ourselves up for the same situation in perpetuity by leaving the bad idea that is Gitmo as it stood as of a few days ago. THIS is one of the reasons why doing things in the right way, the legal way, the moral way, according to US and International laws, actually helps our country be more safe, not less. This guy is back out jihading (supposedly), and it could have been prevented by following the laws.

  • CStanley

    Actually, roro, if you read the article, he was freed because the Bush administration was under pressure to ‘follow the laws’ as you suggest, and so they had to accept his explanation for his activities (he said he was a rug merchant.)

    I agree with you though that this doesn’t reflect badly on Obama- in fact I think Marlowe nailed it, that the NYT probably is motivated to publish this in order to give Obama cover. He’ll have to be more deliberate and attempt to not have this happen on his watch, which will make many on the left angry- so this kind of story helps him explain why he won’t be so quick to release the detainees.

  • CStanley,
    The strike questions does pose a moral dilemma created by the forever wars. It seems the burden of proof for killing is less than the burden of proof for detaining. It’s not feasible to have a trial for every target of an American bullet or airstrike..

  • I, for one, wonder just how many Millions of Dollars we spent to build Guantanamo Bay and how many Thousands of Dollars a day it takes to keep it running…?

    Only in America will we spend millions to do the right thing in the first place and then throw it all away because some people in the world… and sadly in our country too, are JUST NOT HAPPY with it.

    So NOW… by the stroke of Obama’s Pin… we shale lose the many Millions we spent already, (at a time when spending more is not a very good idea,) and we will have thrown away a good working way to deal with the situation already in place too. Not to mention the security/safety of so many American people in the States.

    Is Guantanamo a perfect place? No… But no other place we build or update to replace it will be either. And the ONLY people we will find having any happiness in the Guantanamo closing and moving will be the Trial Lawyers and the Groups that pay/support them.

    In the end… all we will have done is spent many more Millions of Dollars to do the SAME THING we already have in place at Guantanamo Bay… somewhere else. And sadly… in the State/States we move the Detainees to… a calling card to all the Terrorist of the world will have been sent out, saying … “Come my Brethren to the place that holds our Brothers and create terror on the Infidels in the likes that has never been witnessed before. God Willing…”


  • StockBoySF

    I found the Wikipedia article on Guantanamo very interesting…

  • StockBoySF

    How best to put it…..

    Let’s say you have a bank relationship and split your paycheck among a checking, savings and investment account every payday. You then use that money to pay your mortgage/rent, utilities, buy food, clothes, entertainment, etc. Then one day the bank blocks all your accounts for a few months and you are unable to get any money out. You fall behind in your mortgage (or rent) and are forced to move. You try talking with the bank and they say you owe them money. But they don’t tell you for what. And they won’t allow you to have an attorney or anyone else contact them. Their word is final.

    Then one day, out of the blue, the bank says, “Here’s your money, have a nice day.” No further explanation….

    Now my guess would be that you would close your relationship with that bank and you would also write letters to newspapers and tell your friends that they should not bank with that institution.

    I think the same thing happens with many of the released people at Guantanamo…. they may not have started out as terrorists, but after years in horrible situations, and perhaps after being tortured, they turn against the US…..

    As has been pointed out in others’ comments on here we have to presume those people are innocent until proven guilty (and they really could be innocent). But the biggest point isn’t that they may harm us after they are released. The biggest point is that we created many of them and gave them reason to attack us once free.

    That is the reason we should close Guantanamo. There have only been three convictions. One for someone offering “material support” to terrorist. Another for taking the job as Osama’s driver and the third for making a “video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67).”

    After all these years and more than a billion dollars (the Wikipedia article says that Halliburton received a $1 billion contract in 2005 to “build a new $1 billion USD detention facility and security perimeter around the base”)…. after all these years this is the best that Bush could do.

    If the detainees are terrorists and we have done our jobs correctly, then there should be no problem prosecuting them. But we can not hold anyone who may act against the national security interests of the US.

    Unfortunately we’ve made our bed and now we have to sleep in it. And that may mean getting stung by some hornets.

    I agree with roro80 (and others)…. that this should not reflect badly upon Obama. Unlike some others on here, I don’t think this story was meant to give Obama cover… I think this is a story put out there by Bush loyalists (I won’t say Republicans, because I think it’s Bush loyalists…) to try to argue that these are dangerous (or potentially dangerous) people need to stay locked up for the safety of our country. I remember how during the primary McCain and his staff would make announcements, such as suspending his campaign, only to have it backfire. This feels the same… a lame (but dramatic) attempt to make a case for the retention of the detention facility, but it will backfire….. 🙂

  • CStanley

    Stockboy, it’s a newsworthy bit of information no matter how you slice it (the only thing potentially suspect is the timing.)

    So, given that this is news that a major newspaper ought to cover, you have to then assume that the NYT either did so even though they knew that it would motivate Bush loyalists to criticize Obama’s order to close Gitmo or they did so because they saw potential upside to support Obama’s need for more time before figuring out the dispensation of the detainees.

    And since this is NYT, I can’t believe that there’s a third possibility of them WANTING to give Obama’s critics ammunition. Sorry, but their track record doesn’t support that conclusion at all.

  • CStanley,
    Let go of your preconceived notions about the NY Times. Their war related reporting on Iraq and matters relating to Bush’s war on terror have been highly sycophantic. Judith Miller was not an aberration. During the Bush administration they very often fill entire stories with nothing but anonymous pro-government “quotes.” This story about the Yemeni Al Qaeda branch fits that mold very well.

  • StockBoySF

    CStanley, certainly the Republicans in the past have “demonized” the NY Times for certain stories…. including the outing of Plame… But the Republicans have also praised the NY Times (and other papers) when pro–Republican stories have been run….

    In fact I remember over the summer within the course of two weeks McCain and his aides went from practically singing the praises of the NY Times to calling them nothing but a lying cheap tabloid (I don’t remember exactly the words, but that was the drift) when the NY Times ran a piece unfavorable to McCain….

    The Republicans like to have it both ways… as long as it benefits them.

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