Under Pressure From All Sides, President Obama Delays Guantanamo Closure
Under pressure from the fallout of last month’s attempted terrorist attack- and the media storm that is pouring more gasoline onto an otherwise destructive fire- President Barack Obama has decided to renege on his promise to release the remaining detainees in the Guantanamo Bay Prison to Yemen.
Let’s ask the question that is on everybody’s mind; is this the right move for the Obama White House?
If you want my humble opinion, I truly believe that the President is moving in the right direction. Do not misunderstand me; blocking the release of terror suspects from the Guantanamo prison will unleash an enormous amount of criticism from liberal Democrats in Congress. When you consider the President’s pledge to shut down the facility in his first year- and that year has already passed- the controversy over his decision will inevitably multiply within Congress like a cancerous disease.
But politics aside, the President really does not have any other choice. Given the American security tailspin that has occurred over the past month, allowing detainees to travel back to their homes in the Middle East would only dig the President into a bottomless pit. For a world leader already combating the reputation as being weak on national-security issues, it is predictable that Mr. Obama would protect himself from any further claims of appeasement.
After all, it is not like the President is in the wrong here. Currently, half of the prison’s detainees are Yemeni. Considering that Yemen is now Washington’s primary focal point in the War on Terrorism, the most logical policy that the President can endorse would be to hold-off the Gitmo shut-down.
I understand that Guantanamo is a sensitive subject in the United States. I also understand that the prison is a huge recruitment tool for Islamic extremism; ever since its creation, the prison has had an uncanny ability in damaging America’s relations with the Muslim world.
But with this being said, it would be politically-suicidal at this point in time to close the Guantanamo facility as originally scheduled. Yes, Americans may find it hard to accept this, but there are a number of cases involving released Guantanamo suspects rejoining the Islamic jihadist movement. In fact, I would not be surprised if the harsh interrogation techniques that terrorists have had to endure over the past nine years have increased their hostility to the United States. If only Gitmo was used as a rehabilitation center from the get-go; then we may not be talking about ex-detainees going straight back to where they came from.
President Obama simply has no other alternative. If the President closes the facility, there is no question that he would be lambasted by the press and Congressional Republicans about his soft-stance on terrorism (despite the fact that Obama has actually ramped up the fight against terrorism in Pakistan). The Democratic Party- already predicted to lose seats in the 2010 midterm elections- would probably lose even more due to their affiliation with the Obama White House. The same presidency that once sparked hope within the Democratic Party could eventually cost them much-needed representation in Congress.
Through the perspective on national-security, maintaining the status-quo seems like the right judgment. At a time when the White House is accelerating its covert intervention in Yemen, it would be foolish to let Yemeni extremists from the Guantanamo facility jeopardize the already-fragile security situation in that country. Through a political lens, keeping things the way they are (at the moment) would preserve Obama’s image as a man serious about defeating or containing the Al’Qaeda network.
It is amazing how this whole Gitmo controversy would cease to be a major story if the Christmas-Day bomber was refused entry on a civilian jet.
UPDATE: Based on a classified Pentagon assessment, the Reuters News Agency reports that approximately 20 percent of former Guantanamo detains return to their terrorist causes. This is a very concerning estimate; just last April, the same Pentagon assessment cited a 14 percent recidivism rate.
-Daniel R. DePetris
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