Gov. Huckabee, I have a couple of questions for you.
Today’s Washington Post says that after a meeting with some unnamed former generals, you’ve decided that waterboarding should be outlawed and that, more importantly, the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should be closed.
After the Iowa poll showed that Republican voters like him but found him much less “presidential” and “electable” than Romney, Huckabee sought to build his foreign policy credentials, meeting with a group of retired generals who are in Des Moines to urge the 2008 candidates to commit to opposing torture. After the meeting, Huckabee joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in declaring his opposition to the interrogation procedure known as “waterboarding,” and said he would support closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a contrast with the other leading Republicans.
That paragraph suggests that you’re easily swayed by a single meeting on important issues that have been before the American people for years. I won’t ask you a “when did you stop beating your wife” kind of question based on that observation, though. Instead, I’ll ask these questions:
Is the Post’s account accurate? Is it true that you now favor closing Gitmo? If so, what are the details of that position? President Bush has also said that he would like to close Gitmo, but recognizes that the detainees still have to be kept out of the war or they will once again pose a threat to US troops and civilians around the world, so he has kept the facility open in the face of worldwide condemnation. Was he right to do that? What would President Huckabee have done? Would you close it as soon as possible, would you close it only at the cessation of hostilities with al Qaeda, or do you have some other timing in mind? If your position is to close the facility as soon as possible, what would you do with the inmates held there? Would you put the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in the US civilian criminal justice system, as many Democrats and the ACLU argue should be done? Would you attempt to repatriate the inmates to their countries of origin? Are you aware that the Bush administration has tried to repatriate many of the Gitmo inmates, and their countries of origin don’t want them? Are you aware that about a dozen former Gitmo inmates who have been released have turned up on battlefields, fighting once again against US and coalition forces?
Specifically, what is it that you find problematic about Guantanamo? Are the conditions of incarceration too harsh? How would you have handled the detainees differently from the Bush administration?
And last, if waterboarding is off the table, how would your administration extract information from captured terrorist masterminds like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
Update: Here’s video of Huckabee addressing the symbolism of Guantanamo.
MIKE HUCKABEE: I’ve been to Guantanamo, I was there, I guess it’s been about a year and a half ago. I think the problem with Guantanamo is not in that its facilities are inadequate. It’s the symbol that it represents. It’s clearly become a symbol to the rest of the world as a place that has become problematic for us as a nation. I was quite frankly impressed with the quality of the facilities and even the attention to care that was given to the detainees, but that aside, it doesn’t alter that Guantanamo to the rest of the world is a symbol that is not in our best interests to continue pursuing.
My take: He’s putting symbolism over substance and putting worldwide condemnation ahead of the security realities. Those are not good qualities in a commander in chief who’ll lead a country that was globally envied and reviled long before the war even started.
Update (AP): Is Huck too moralistic to be C-in-C? Paul Mirengoff thinks so: “Waterboarding and long-term detention aren’t very ‘Christian’; they merely keep terrorists out of action and, in special circumstances enable us to find out where we’re going to be attacked next and/or where we can find those who are planning the next attacks.”
Update: Reader Chris sends this story along. It’s from June 11, 2007. Huckabee’s opinion on Gitmo was the opposite of what it is now.
Detainees being held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion of connections to terrorism enjoy conditions better than many prisons in the United States, Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee said Sunday.
While the government’s handling of Guantanamo detainees has come to symbolize “what’s gone wrong” in the fight against terrorism, the former Arkansas governor said, it’s better to err on the side of protecting the American people.
The former Arkansas governor, who has visited Guantanamo, said Arkansas prisoners most likely would prefer Guantanamo to incarceration in Arkansas.
“I can tell you most of our prisoners would love to be in a facility more like Guantanamo and less like the state prisons that people are in in the United States,” Huckabee said on a cable news network.
“It’s (Guantanamo) more symbolic than it is a substantive issue because people perceive of mistreatment when in fact there are extraordinary means being taken to make sure these detainees are being given really every consideration,” he said.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Guantanamo should be closed and others have criticized the federal government for holding suspects indefinitely and apparently without evidence. Huckabee said he understands these concerns.
“But I tell you if we let somebody out and it turns out that they come and fly an airliner into one of our skyscrapers, we’re going to be asking how come we didn’t stop them, we had them detained,” he said. “If we’re going to make a mistake right now, let’s make it on the side of protecting the American people.”
Gov. Huckabee, was Gen. Colin Powell among the generals you met with in Des Moines?
Update: Here’s Huckabee’s video from earlier today on Fox. I’ve left in part of his answer regarding why he’s drawing support to give you a sense of how smooth a speaker Huckabee is. He’s good without coming across as slick or fake. But that doesn’t make him right, and on Gitmo he’s just wrong. As you’ll see in this clip, he makes a point of saying that closing Gitmo doesn’t mean releasing the terrorist, and that he’d like to move them elsewhere and close Gitmo since it has become a counterproductive symbol of the war.
So where would Huckabee put the detainees? He doesn’t say, and doesn’t seem to know. What would he do if that new location also becomes a counterproductive symbol of the war to America’s critics? He doesn’t say, and doesn’t appear to have considered the possibility.
Update: Our host is having a bad time with this clip. Hopefully the issue will resolve soon.
Update (AP): Here’s the statement from the Huckabee campaign.
The men and women of our armed forces have served and acted honorably in their duties at Guantanamo Bay and we greatly appreciate their service in keeping our nation free, safe, and secure. I have visited Guantanamo Bay and know that the detainees are more than adequately cared for. My concern is that the facility has become a distraction from our Global War on Terror and that other facilities, like Fort Leavenworth, can serve the same purpose without the controversy.
As for specific procedures concerning detainee adjudication, like all Americans, I await the Supreme Courts ruling in the Boumediene case, which will determine if detainees have habeus corpus rights. As President, my overriding concern in dealing with the suspected terrorists will always be our national security interests. I want to reiterate, as I stated in June, that my first priority will be the protection of the American people and ensuring that all suspected terrorists remain in our custody.
Update (Bryan): Ok, so now we know he wants to put the detainees at Leavenworth. If SCOTUS doesn’t grant them habeus corpus, that move is likely to as the nearest federal judge will have the ACLU camped out in his inbox. What then? And what happens when the Gitmo critics just move on to start criticizing us for holding the detainees at Leavenworth? The end result of Huckabee’s stance will be to grant the detainees full rights in US civilian courts, either that or freeing them, since he won’t take the stand that our detaining them at Gitmo is both lawful and humane and has established the precedent that he’ll retreat in the face of unfair and unreasonable criticism of the US.
Sorry, Governor, no sale here.