Gitmo still not exactly shutting down

President Bush established the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to house detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq. In 2008, President Obama promised that, if elected, he was shuttin’ it down — it became one of the signature platforms of his whole campaign.

Just after entering office, Obama signed an executive order directing that Gitmo be closed, and that the detainees be reviewed on a case-by-case basis with the goal of repatriating them or bringing them to trial in U.S. civilian courts. Nothing doing, however — Congress blocked his attempt, citing security risks with terrorists attacks and escapes in transferring the criminals. (Being president is hard.)

So, if you can’t shut it down… spruce it up, I guess? Gitmo is currently undergoing millions of dollars’ worth of upgrades that will help it to stay open as a suspected-terrorists prison for awhile yet:

Among the recent improvements to the facility commonly known as “Gitmo”: a heavily guarded soccer field for detainees known as “Super Rec,” which cost nearly $750,000 and opened this week; cable television in a  communal living quarters and “enriching your life” classes for detainees, which include instruction on learning to paint, writing a resume  — even handling personal finances.

“Well, that’s one class, but it’s not a popular (one),”  Army Col. Donnie Thomas, commander of the military guards at camp, said with a laugh. “But it’s a class. It’s just to keep these guys busy.”

Other improvements are more practical, such as a new headquarters for the guards and a new hospital, which is still in the planning stages. …

Many of the improvements have been made at the most modern facility in the detention center, known as Camp VI, a communal living compound that houses about 80 percent of the 169 detainees currently held at Gitmo. There, detainees who are deemed to be compliant with the rules and therefore eligible for more privileges are able to watch 21 Cable TV channels, DVD movies, read newspapers and borrow books from a library. …

But for the remainder of the detainees – including some who are eligible for release but have no country willing to take them – there is little prospect of leaving Gitmo anytime soon.

Does anyone else find it a bit inconsistent that President Obama originally promised to close Gitmo for — oh, I don’t know, humanitarian reasons or something — and these days he’s taking out terrorists via killer robots with unrelenting fury? Not that I harbor any sympathies for the terrorists, but from a strategic security standpoint, isn’t it better to capture and hold terrorists for information rather than immediately wiping them off the map?

A drone strike would vaporize this ingenious terrorist intent on attacking the United States. But it would also vaporize all the intelligence inside his brain. Our national security would be better served if the United States captured al-Asiri and kept him alive for questioning, so we can find out what he knows. …

We saw just how important such intelligence is following the operation against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In that instance, President Obama made a rare decision against a drone strike and put boots on the ground. While bin Laden was killed in the raid, we recovered a massive cache of computers and hard drives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of al-Qaeda documents that were taken back to CIA headquarters for exploitation. It is no coincidence that the recent uptick in operations targeting al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen began soon after the bin Laden raid. All of that vital intelligence would have been destroyed had the president opted for a drone strike instead of a special operations raid.

Unfortunately, in virtually every case where the Obama administration has located senior al-Qaeda leaders in the past three years, the president has chosen targeted killings over live captures. Killing these terrorists has allowed Obama to avoid confronting the question of what to do with them once they are captured. But there is a lone exception to this rule. In April 2011, the United States captured a senior leader of al-Qaeda’s East African affiliate al-Shabab, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. He was questioned for more than two months aboard a U.S. Navy ship before being flown to New York for trial on terrorism charges. If Obama is not willing to bring al-Asiri to Guantanamo, there is no reason the United States could not question him aboard a Navy ship as well..