Why Not Close Gitmo?

by Patrick Appel
I've made Jim Geraghty angry:

I urged the Republicans to argue against closing Gitmo, pointing out that the public opposes that policy change and that every alternative location brings new problems, problems that Gitmo opponents never want to acknowledge. ...this again just illustrates what this debate has become the close-Gitmo crowd doesn't want to bother thinking about the thorny issues of what do you do with the captured terrorists once you've closed that detention center; they just want to feel good about themselves.

But Gitmo – like Abu Ghraib and Bagram – has become a symbol of torture. You cannot argue against closing Gitmo without running into that stubborn fact. And, yes, the closure will be mostly symbolic. The real challenge is how we try detainees – especially those whose cases are tainted by torture. But the whole point of housing detainees at Gitmo was to put them outside of the American legal system, a practice that was struck down by the Supreme Court when it ruled that detainees have habeus rights. Here's what Cernig at Newshoggers wrote at the time of the ruling:

Some very bad people are likely to walk free along with the innocent because the Bush administration tried to walk around domestic and international principles of law, creating an entirely spurious new designation of “unlawful combatant” so that they could either hide detainees from due process indefinitely or, failing that, conduct kangaroo courts.

If they’d just stuck with the existing definitions, all the Gitmo detainees against whom they could build a real case under the actual rules of law, without torture and without rigging the courts, would have been tried...already. If found guilty, the death penalty would have been warranted in some cases. I would personally have had no problem with that.

I understand why politicians like Brownback are opposed to housing detainees in their districts: it is always politically expedient to take a hard line – even a dumb hard line – against terrorists and "terrorists." Here's RedState yesterday reacting to news that Murtha offered to house detainees: "I’m sure the people of his district are ready to greet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with open arms and casseroles." Very grown up. Murtha tries to solve the problem and gets attacked for it by the far right. Housing detainees in the US might not be the politically safe thing to do, but it is the only ethical and lawful action. I don't see why American prisons are incapable of handing Gitmo detainees – they house domestic terrorists already. And how housing detainees in maximum security prisons impacts the American citizens residing nearby is beyond me.

Here's a question for Jim: What do we gain by keeping detainees at Gitmo? I understand that Republicans might find some political advantage in opposing Gitmo's closure, but don't see a logical reason for keeping it open. Trying detainees won't appear legitimate unless we bring them under the American system, and if we do that some very bad men will go free. But that is Bush's failing, not Obama's. This was inevitable the minute the Bush administration decided to authorize torture.