On his first day in office, flush with as much political power as any President on his election since Bill Clinton, Barack Obama proclaimed closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay as Job 1 – literally, as his first action as President was to issue an executive order for closing it within one year. That effort derailed over the realities of terrorist detention, and the promised move of terrorist trials to civilian courts ran aground on predictable issues of criminal due process and its lack of application to wartime. Now former Pentagon spokesman J. D. Gordon says that the change in Congress will likely mean an end to these efforts, and should:
Now, with the GOP in the driver’s seat in the House, and with Democrats having just the slimmest majority in the Senate, Republicans have the opportunity to force the administration to change course.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., next in line to serve as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a telling signal to the Obama administration on Nov. 1, after a Canadian-born Guantanamo detainee named Omar Khadr finally pleaded guilty to murder after stalling for time in his five years of military commission hearings. …
Meanwhile, Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. — next in line to head the House Homeland Security Committee — wrote in an op-ed on Sunday that as chairman, he will “work to stop the transfer of admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators from Guantanamo to lower Manhattan for trial.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also has been a powerful counterweight to the Obama administration on its plans to shutter Guantanamo and afford civilian trials to its detainees. In an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace last year he said, “I agree with the family of Daniel Pearl. You know, KSM murdered their son. And they said, ‘Why in the world would we want to give him the show trial that he desires’.” Now just a few seats shy of a Senate majority, Sen. McConnell will be further empowered to insist that 9/11 pre-trial hearings be re-started at Guantanamo.
If Republicans want to put the kibosh on these moves, the key chair positions in the House will be Judiciary, Armed Services, and Homeland Security. Armed Services will want answers as to why the Obama administration has not utilized the bipartisan military commissions system passed while Democrats controlled Congress to adjudicate the terrorists, including KSM, who was ready to plead guilty until Eric Holder and Obama stopped the commissions in January 2009 and insisted on trying them in federal court. Judiciary should be concerned about the exceptions the Department of Justice has been forced to demand in due process that may eventually erode the civil rights of Americans in federal court in order to shoehorn the processing of terrorists captured abroad by military and intelligence assets through the courts used for those arrested by law enforcement in the US.
Those hearings would supply plenty of interesting information, especially on who made these decisions and why. Just the action of calling the hearings would probably push the White House into capitulating on the issue, as they have mostly capitulated already after the Christmas Day and Times Square terrorist attack attempts got voters angered all over again over the administration’s policies. Obama has yet to offer a coherent argument for closing Gitmo other than for public-relations reasons, and how they can insist on trying KSM in criminal court while using the commissions system for other detainees.
Closing Gitmo and trying people captured outside of the normal law-enforcement paradigm in criminal court has already proven unrealistic. Perhaps a new GOP majority in the House will give Obama an excuse for dropping these projects altogether.