Obama Right to Retreat on Gitmo

I’ve always thought that a detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, made sense. In fact, back when I worked for the old Immigration & Naturalization Service in the early 1990’s, that agency pioneered the use of the U.S. naval base in Cuba as a detention center for boat people from Haiti and Cuba intercepted while trying to reach the U.S. The INS needed a place to process persons seeking to enter the U.S. without authorization, which was safe for both the detainees and for the U.S. personnel in charge of processing them, and Gitmo fit the bill.

Detained persons who are not U.S. citizens should not be brought to the U.S. if that can be avoided. Once physically in the U.S., even as detainees, they can make asylum claims which can be a burden for the U.S. immigration service and courts (and taxpayers), and which if granted can qualify the individual for permanent residence in the U.S., a privilege we routinely deny to millions of hard-working foreigners who have never been accused of a serious crime.

So I thought it made sense to process foreign terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, too. It’s a safe place for terror suspects to be detained, interrogated, and given whatever process the U.S. government determines is due. My interpretation of the laws of war permits the detention of enemy combatants for as long as hostilities continue to prevent new attacks on Americans.

I understand that during his 2008 campaign President Obama promised to close Guantanamo. I thought that was a mistake, as were the efforts of his predecessor, President Bush, to do the same. The practicalities and costs, both financial and political, of trying to do that have now become apparent.

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President Obama’s decision to continue use of Gitmo as a detention facility, and resume military tribunals to try terror suspects should be welcomed. In fact, use of that facility should be expanded to prosecute and detain pirates captured on the high seas. I think it quite possible that those pirates already brought to the U.S., tried, convicted and imprisoned, could end up when released as our next-door neighbors. There should not be an immigration preference for foreign pirates and terrorists.

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