... then kill them all with drones tomorrow. Well, why not? The Obama White House desperately wants to close GITMO - it's "not who we are" and a terrorist recruitment tool, etc. - but, at the same time, it seems to have no angst whatsoever about using its Disposition Matrix, Obama's secret Kill List, the Facebook of Death.
The Obama administration already hunts down and kills released detainees, like this one for instance, only not immediately and not en masse. If it's serious about emptying out GITMO, why not give mass targeted killing a chance? It would satisfy most critics on the right, and would not necessarily upset all the critics of GITMO on the left.
There are critics of drone warfare, to be sure. But many of the activists who oppose GITMO seem to be single-issue types who are so obsessed with the fact we hold detainees at all that they have no energy left for protesting the administration's practice of killing instead of capturing its enemies. Maybe a mass execution would come as a relief to them after the last seven years of frustration over Obama's many failed plans to close GITMO.
The most recent of those plans has the anti-GITMO groups fearing a bait-and-switch tactic, in which Obama would move detainees from Cuba to some new place in the U.S. but continue to hold them indefinitely. See this great piece by Spencer Ackerman: 'No one but himself to blame': how Obama's Guantánamo plans fell through :
As one of his first acts in January 2009, the president decreed that Guantánamo be closed within a year and set subordinates to work on the details. As Obama spoke of “responsibly” closing the facility, civil libertarians began to perceive a gap between what they meant by closing Guantánamo and what the White House meant.
They wanted the president to announce that he would try the long-held detainees in federal courts, then hold those convicted and release those acquitted or unable to stand trial because torture tainted the evidence against them. They also wanted him to forswear trying those charged in military commissions that the supreme court had junked in a 2008 ruling. Every such group, from the ACLU to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch, understood the phrase “closing Guantánamo” to mean putting an end to those practices, which they contended had undermined longstanding US commitments to the rule of law and human rights.
-- snip --
The human rights groups so encouraged by Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo smelled a bait-and-switch. Even if Obama got what he wanted, he wouldn’t be closing the facility in any substantive fashion. The indefinite detentions without charge, the military commissions, everything, save torture, that made Guantanamo internationally infamous would live on, except this time closer to home.
The best thing in the article is this amazing quote that shows just how detached from reality professional activists can get. Referring to the resettlement to Bermuda of four Uighur detainees - those are fighters of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement who were captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan where they had been receiving training from Al-Qaeda - one activist had this fantastical vision of what might have been:
Cori Crider of the human rights group Reprieve, who has represented numerous Guantánamo detainees, considers the Uighur resettlement an early, unforced and underappreciated capitulation that sowed the seeds for further failure.
“Just think for a minute if those snapshots had been in America – if from spring ’09, everybody’s mental picture of ex-detainees was five dudes in T-shirts and hipster beards at a backyard barbecue. Everything later would have gone down differently,” Crider said.
The sight of ex-detainees at play in Bermuda so moved Ms. Crider that she wants to build the Uighurs a home and furnish it with love, grow apple trees and honey bees and snow white turtle doves. You know the song. Just change the lyrics to 'grow hipster beards, wear dirty tees, and grill halal kabobs.'
"Everything later would have gone down differently." What?? What color is the sky in Cori Crider's world? In what alternative universe would American voters have a mental picture of dudes with hipster beards when they see Islamic violent extremists, even ones like the Uighurs who only kill Chinese victims?
To share her fantasy, you would have to ignore a massive load of reality. There are practical obstacles to releasing detainees, such as Pentagon foot-dragging that has effectively sabotaged the release mechanism, something that will likely increase as time runs out on Obama's last term. But, more importantly, there is an overwhelming bipartisan political consensus against closing GITMO or bringing detainees to the U.S. You could start with the recent vote on the current defense spending bill, which contained provisions to prevent the transfer of detainees to the U.S. That bill passed the Senate by a vote of 91 to 3, and passed the House 370 to 58. When Obama vetoed the bill, Congress overrode his veto and kept the provisions against transfer.
The same thing happened back in 2009, when Democrats controlled Congress, and the administration wanted to bring detainees to the U.S. and put some of them on trial. That time even Bernie Sanders voted against the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this:
“You can’t put them in prison unless you release them [from GITMO],” he said. “We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.”
There is no other issue on which so many of our elected representatives agree, and they agree emphatically. GITMO's detainees can't come here, so there will be no backyard barbecue photo-ops. Sorry Ms. Crider, but if you want a cute pet that will signal your virtue you should look into getting a rescue dog.
So if transfer to the U.S. isn't politically possible, and if we've run out of foreign partners willing to accept more detainees, what can Obama do to make good on his Number 1 political promise of closing GITMO? Back to my thought experiment: since targeted killing using drones is a very feasible option for ex-detainees, as well as for the would-be detainees that we aren't trying to capture anymore, why not release and kill them?
For whatever reason, Official Washington does not have the same objection to extrajudicial killing that it does to detention, not even the objection that it is a cause of terrorist recruitment and radicalization. That is very puzzling to me, because drone warfare clearly is a tool for recruitment and radicalization. There is a broad consensus for that proposition, coming from drone operators themselves as well as from the ranks of senior U.S. military leaders and intelligence and counterterrorism officials and foreign policy experts. Yet, the administration drones on and on, seemingly with no qualms about counterproductive backlash or even the very iffy evidence that leadership decapitation is an effective strategy in the first place.
Why no qualms? I don't know, but maybe it's because the physical and mechanical distance between us and the victims makes drone warfare a political winner even when the victims are unintended (and there may be many unintended victims), while up-close-and-personal measures against detainees in our custody make us queasy.
It's crunch time on Obama's promise to close GITMO, and here's my contribution to the all-nighters his dwindling band of loyal staffers are no doubt having. Go to Pakistan, ask them to accept our ninety or so remaining detainees - the worst of whom, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the planner of the 9/11 attack, is their citizen anyway - and relocate them to North Waziristan where we can pick them off at our leisure.
Food for thought.