Congress to Obama: Close Gitmo without our help

Stephen Stromberg
Copyright 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009; 8:10 PM

In what Associate Press writer Andrew Taylor calls a ???modest victory??? for the Obama administration, the Senate Tuesday evening agreed to let the Obama administration transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States -- but only to stand trial. You can bet this doesn???t feel like much of a victory in a White House that???s getting dangerously close to missing its self-imposed deadline to close the prison, which is coming up in January. This, in fact, does nothing to remedy the spinelessness on Guantanamo from a Democratic Congress filled with members who supposedly want to see the prison shuttered but don???t, apparently, want to give Obama the tools to do it. In the short-term, Congress should approve a transfer policy that permits detaining as well as trying prisoners in America. Then the legislative branch should actually create new legal frameworks designed for the wars we are waging, under which America can hold and try such detainees without keeping Gitmo open, rather than letting less accountable courts improvise based on existing law. Instead, Congress???s leaders have obstructed the president after the GOP scared Americans into -- somehow -- believing that the prisoners would pose a greater threat behind bars in Supermax than they do languishing in Gitmo. And for those of you who insist that the real problem with transferring the detainees is that it would give them access to federal courts -- not that Republicans are using that more sensible-sounding argument before trying unalloyed fear -- remember that the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners already may file habeas petitions, even in Guantanamo. It???s often said in Washington that the Democratic majority simply won???t hobble its new president with an embarrassing defeat on health care. But it is setting him up for a political disaster on a matter grave importance -- how and indeed whether this country proceeds, lawfully and reasonably, in prosecuting its fight against terrorism abroad.

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