Give Hillary this much credit — in this case, she acted more like a leader than Barack Obama. That’s not a high bar to clear, especially in Obama’s second term. At the beginning of that second term, Hillary urged Obama to get serious about his oft-stated and unpopular goal of closing down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, stressing that “we need a White House lead” on the issue. The Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly got the memo in a FOIA request:
Weeks before she stepped down as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton wrote a memo urging President Barack Obama to step up his administration’s efforts to close the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in his second term. In the confidential January 2013 memo obtained by The Huffington Post, Clinton told Obama she worried that support for closing Guantanamo would further erode unless the administration took action.
“We must signal to our old and emerging allies alike that we remain serious about turning the page of GTMO and the practices of the prior decade,” Clinton wrote in the document, using the military abbreviation for the U.S. naval base. “The revitalization of transfers, efforts to prosecute some detainees in federal courts, a longer-term approach to the return of Yemeni detainees, and credible periodic reviews would send the signal and renew a credible detention policy.”
She also encouraged Obama to consider moving Guantanamo detainees into the country. “If the law permits, I recommend that you consider transfers to the United States for pre-trial detention, trial, and sentences,” Clinton wrote.
The Hill reports that US allies had begun to flag in support of the war on terror, and blamed Obama’s failure to close Gitmo:
In the brief memo, she worried that congressional efforts to keep Guantanamo Bay open “are undermining some of the support” that Obama’s early actions “helped us earn from the public and our allies.”
“If we do not make advances in closing GTMO, that support will erode further,” she warned.
It’s an interesting if fallacious argument, but the best rebuttal to that came from Barack Obama himself. He declared the war against terrorists in Iraq to be over in 2011 and campaigned on ending the war there all throughout 2012. Obama also claimed to have restored trust among the alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and to have the latter “on the run” during his re-election campaign. The Obama administration spent its first term arguing that the war on terror was really a police action against “man-caused disasters,” and much of its second term ignoring the rise of ISIS in the vacuum it left behind in Iraq and Libya, pretending that the al-Qaeda affiliate amounted to a “jayvee team.”
Almost three years later, the world is uniting around the leadership looking to fight ISIS, but the center of that leadership has moved from Washington to Paris and Moscow. It turns out that the world wants to fight terrorism when terrorism strikes its population centers, regardless of whether the detention center at Gitmo remains open for business or not. The push to close it was more of a vanity project for Obama than any strategic or tactical move to enhance our position in the war on terror, and the American public has seen through it all along. It was theater designed to provoke adulation, not a strategy to enhance national security, and it remains that to this day.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what both Obama and Hillary call smart power.
Addendum: Perhaps if we were still serious about the need to keep captured terrorists in military custody ourselves, these kinds of incidents would be less frequent:
On Oct. 22, a team of Kurdish soldiers, backed up by elite commandos from the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, raided an ISIS prison compound in the Iraqi town of Hawija, where Kurdish intelligence indicated dozens of their own peshmergafighters were being held. It turned out there were no Kurds in the prison, but 69 hostages were freed, and more than 20 ISIS fighters were killed.
The Kurds also took six ISIS fighters as their prisoners. And now, U.S. officials and humanitarian aid workers in the region tell The Daily Beast, it appears those prisoners are being tortured in Kurdish custody, in violation of international law.
“I am sure they are being tortured, no question,” said a U.S. defense official in Iraq who is familiar with the raid and spoke on the condition of anonymity. He noted that Americans do not have access to them, but added, “You have to remember where we are. Torture is pervasive.”
The brutality of the Kurdish campaign against the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS is well established in reporting by The Daily Beast and other media. But the treatment of these prisoners, taken with the assistance of U.S. government forces who then deny any responsibility for what happens to them, is reminiscent of the “rendition” program under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, which transferred suspected terrorists to the custody of governments that used methods of torture flatly prohibited by American and international law.
If only we had a military facility designed to contain terrorists without being a danger to US territory, we could extract intelligence using legal interrogation methods so that we can fight ISIS more effectively. If only ….