Revisiting Château d'If: what about the people we'll never let free no matter what?
Benjamin Wittes is confused by President Obama's comments this morning about Guantanamo and so should we all be. He quotes the president this morning on the plight of the people who are stuck at Guantanamo and then points out this inconvenient fact:
Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.
True, he would hold such people in a domestic facility, rather than at Guantanamo Bay. But so what? does the President not understand when he frets about “the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity” that if Congress let him do exactly as he wished, he would still be doing exactly that—except that the number might not reach 100 and the location would not be at Guantanamo? Does he not understand his own policy proposals—to maintain a residual group of detainees indefinitely—when he worries that “When we transfer detention authority in Afghanistan, the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests and it needs to stop”? Does he not understand when he intones that we are wiser now than we were after 9/11 and no longer need a site like Guantanamo to hold non-criminal terrorist detainees that he is proposing to build a new one?
I hear lots of chatter defending the administration's decision not to send people back to Yemen because Yemen is filled with terrorists yadda, yadda, yadda. I get that this is a conundrum, although I do believe that there is no rational basis for not, at least, bringing the Yemenis to the United States. (Yes, in that case it's the congress being assholes, as usual.)
But the above is what I can't get past: the idea that we will hold people indefinitely because we can't convict them of a crime but we have determined they are dangerous. This turns the entire foundation of the constitution upside down.
I would love to hear the reason why "we" (meaning the government --- in secret) cannot decide that other people who we just "know" are dangerous should be locked up forever with no due process. That rationale could be used every single day in every city and twown of this country if they wanted to.
This is the stated policy of the Obama administration on the merits, not some "practical" decision based upon alleged conditions in foreign countries which they would change if only they could. They have stated outright that there are people they have in custody they cannot charge, try or convict but who they nonetheless will lock up forever.
As long as that policy is defended, it's kind of hard to listen to lugubrious hand-wringing about how holding people in perpetuity "needs to stop."