Barack Obama didn’t take long to make an impact on the issue of Guantanamo Bay. Within hours of assuming office, President Obama issued an order suspending all military tribunals for 120 days. Today’s hearing for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was among those delayed until May 20th, while Obama decides what to do:
In one of his first acts in office President Obama has ordered the U.S. government to suspend prosecutions of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for 120 days, military officials said Tuesday.
Papers filed at the U.S. prison camp said the request is made “in the interest of justice and at the direction of the president of the United States.” It seeks a delay in proceedings until May 20.
“The judges will receive the requests and review them, and we anticipate a ruling soon,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman.
Tuesday’s directive was issued verbally through Defense Secretary Bob Gates, according to a military official.
Obama had vowed to close the naval prison at the U.S. base. While Obama’s order does not go that far, it will stop the prosecutions of 21 detainees currently facing war crimes charges.
Recall that the military tribunal process has twice passed Congress as the preferred manner of dealing with these terrorists. Barack Obama opposed it as a Senator, but it received bipartisan support on both occasions. In the second and current version, the process includes the right to appeal through the regular federal appellate courts.
In this case, justice delayed is not much of a change at all. Did Obama not have an idea of how to proceed when he took office? A four-month delay only means that the detainees will have to wait that much longer to see any adjudication of their status. Why not allow the tribunals to proceed, at least to get a finding of fact from them? If Obama wants to invalidate the process later, he can also invalidate their findings. It’s difficult to see what Obama expects to get from a further delay, especially since one of the main complaints about Gitmo has been the length of time the men have been held without adjudication.
The delay would only be meaningful if Obama intended to free all of the Gitmo prisoners, something that the ACLU has urged. Somehow, I don’t think Barack Obama would be that foolish. It would be tough to win re-election as the man who set Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 actors free simply to win favor from Europe’s elite.
In the end, Gitmo really is two problems: location and process. If the process gets changed, then there’s no reason to change location. If the location was all that was at issue, then the process doesn’t matter. These terrorists have to remain detained to keep Americans from getting killed, especially KSM and the 9/11 plotters. Their guilt is not in doubt, nor is the danger they represent.