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While Obama works to keep his promise, he misses the point

As President Obama continues his haphazard attempts to close Guantanamo Bay Prison, where 200 suspected terrorists continue to be held, it is important to think back on why there was such a push to close it in the first place.

Guantanamo Bay and the supporting executive order that classified its inmates as "illegal enemy combatants" was used as a loophole to deny them of any kinds of rights.  Since they weren't on U.S. soil, they weren't protected by our Bill of Rights and since they were "illegal" they weren't subject to the Geneva Convention's protection of prisoners of war.

During his campaign, Barack Obama promised to close Gitmo. This led citizens to believe that this loophole, which defies the spirit of the law and basic human decency, would finally be eliminated.  Now the president has begun the efforts to close the prison, but without addressing the real problem.

The tentative plan involves moving some inmates to U.S. prisons, many to oversees prisons, and putting a very small number on trial--those for which the government has gathered sufficient evidence.  About the same amount will be prosecuted by military tribunals. 

The problem is that this does nothing to address the concern Americans (and others) had with the Cuban prison in the first place.  Whether incarcerated in Gitmo, the United States, or overseas the prisoners, by and large are still being denied both the right to trial and the rights of POWs.  The legal abyss remains, it is simply hidden by a policy of less controversy.

If Obama wants to actually close the loophole, rather than simply appease public opinion by appearing to keep his promise then he has two options.

Toss out evidence gathered through torture (including waterboarding).  Release those for which there is insufficient evidence.  Charge and put on trial those that remain.  Imprison those convicted for sentences that fit the crime.  This is the Bill of Rights approach.

The other option is to consider the inmates to be prisoners of war under the terms of the Geneva convention.  This means the prisoners cannot be subject to any kind of mental or physical torture, they must be treated well, and they cannot be interrogated beyond the revelation of their name and rank (if applicable).

Both options have pros and cons, but at least they both adhere to the law and to basic morality, certainly a step up from the current policy or Obama's plan which in every way that matters maintains it.


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