Barack Obama has decided to fight the release of the 17 Chinese Uighers at Guantanamo Bay into the US, Jake Tapper reports — and he’s choosing an interesting argument to use. While Obama has wasted no opportunity to paint Gitmo as a stain on the nation’s reputation and all but the gulag Dick Durbin called it a few years ago, the administration paints quite a different picture of it in court:
The Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to reject a request for a hearing from 17 Chinese Muslims currently being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, arguing they have no right to come to America despite a district judge’s orders last Fall that they immediately be brought to the U.S. and released.
“Petitioners are free to return to their home country, but they understandably do not wish to do so, because they fear inhumane treatment there,” reads the filing, signed by US Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, and other Justice Department officials. “Petitioners are also free to go to any other country that is willing to accept them.”
Many European countries are waiting for the US to accept the Uighurs before they agree to accept any more detainees from Guantanamo, but there is strong resistance from Congress, which recently voted to keep any detainees out of the US — even out of US prisons.
But not to worry — the Obama administration says the Uighurs’ detention isn’t so bad, considering.
“In contrast to individuals currently detained as enemies under the laws of war, petitioners are being housed under relatively unrestrictive conditions, given the status of Guantanamo Bay as a United States military base,” Kagan writes, saying they are “in special communal housing with access to all areas of their camp, including an outdoor recreation space and picnic area.” They “sleep in an air-conditioned bunk house and have the use of an activity room equipped with various recreational items, including a television with VCR and DVD players, a stereo system, and sports equipment.”
In fact, the conditions at the rest of the facility also are pretty decent, compared to conditions in max-security prisons elsewhere in the US. The military runs a tight ship at Gitmo, but the prisoners have a standard of living that — apart from their detention — exceeds anything available to them in their home countries, free or not. They certainly don’t want to be there any more than the Uighers, but as the administration admits in this filing, they’re being detained under the “laws of war.”
Presumably, they would have to be detained under the “laws of war” regardless of where we house them. So why close Gitmo at all?
Also, Obama’s new friends in Europe have to be a little nonplussed at this filing. He just got done twisting arms on his first trip to the EU to get our allies to take some of the Gitmo detainees. Supposedly, the Uighers are the best of the lot, with no particular animus towards anyone but China, at least according to the administration. If so, why did Obama go to court to block them from entering the US? Europeans may not have been so charmed by Obama as to miss that glaring hypocrisy.
It seems that the more Obama looks at Gitmo and the military tribunal system, the better he likes both. Maybe by this summer, Obama will finally admit out loud that George W. Bush had it right all along.