If Not Gitmo, Where?

Published: Mar 22, 2009

Author: Array

Barack Obama, on his first full day as president, signed an order to fulfill one of his biggest campaign promises: shuttering the GuantÁnamo Bay prison. The president said he moved to close the military’s marquee terrorist prison to regain America’s moral stature in the world.

Although a politically shrewd maneuver, the weight of one simple question casts doubt on all of President Obama’s eloquent electioneering and executive ordering: What do you do with the 245 alleged terrorists still at GuantÁnamo?

President Obama, responding to that question at the signing ceremony for the executive order, said, “We will be, uh – is there a separate executive order, Greg (White House Counsel Gregory Craig) with respect to how we’re going to dispose of the detainees? Is that, uh, written?”

Craig responded, “We’ll set up a process.”

Sounds like ready, fire, aim. Without stipulating a place to put the GuantÁnamo inmates, President Obama’s plan amounts to taking the American people on a blind date with dangerous detainees. Worse still, reports abound that the White House plans to leave military bases on U.S. soil holding the bag.

Consider the absence of existing and secure prison facilities to house terrorists at Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, and the aggrieved outrage of those who lost loved ones to the handiwork of GuantÁnamo’s guests.

As Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who lost 17 men in the 2000 attack on the warship Cole, puts it, this executive order “demeans their deaths.” As you read this, that attack’s mastermind is locked down in GuantÁnamo.

What, then, do we do with these men?

We could repatriate the prisoners, but some of their homelands – not seeing the wisdom in shipping wolves back to the henhouse – have flatly refused to accept them.

Even when countries have taken back their own, the results often aren’t pretty. Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi, returned to Kuwait in 2005 after four years at GuantÁnamo, was held a mere four months, freed on $1,720 bail and acquitted of all terrorism charges. Last March he drove an explosive-laden truck into an Iraqi army base, killing himself and 13 Iraqi soldiers. Dozens of other ex-detainees have likewise rejoined the fray.

GuantÁnamo is clearly brimming with would-be al-Ajmis. Safety aside, dumping them on U.S. bases raises a phalanx of red flags: Can detainees petition the government for habeas corpus, win release and avoid deportation by applying for asylum to stay in places such as San Diego?

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are itching to give constitutional rights to these terrorists. The international law gurus, including those in the White House, don’t have the answers.

Absent a clear post-GuantÁnamo plan, President Obama’s first executive order is a symbolic, hollow gesture aimed at somehow fostering international good will toward America. Bottom line: Shunting terrorists to Camp Pendleton, Miramar or anywhere on U.S. soil opens a Pandora’s box.

So, if the president is sincere about closing GuantÁnamo – and I believe he is – sending detainees to a secure location such as Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base makes much more sense than dropping them inside our borders.

Issa, a Republican, represents the 49th Congressional District, which includes Oceanside, Vista, Fallbrook, a portion of San Diego and a portion of Riverside County.