Partisan Dispute on Gitmo Hides Consensus on Detention Policy

Fight over moving Gitmo to US soil obscures bipartisan consensus on indefinite detention without trial for terror suspects

There is a political fight in Washington over the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration and those who support it want to maintain the inhumane system of indefinite detention without charge or trial, but move the prison to US soil. Those in opposition agree on maintaining detention policy, just not on US soil.

Last year, the defense bill and the omnibus spending bill that Obama and Congress agreed to prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States. Now, the administration is pushing back against such provisions in the latest defense bill.

To persuade their Republican opposition, the administration is using the due process-free assassinations of Osama bin Laden and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki as political capital to suggest that they are tough enough on terrorism to be trusted with holding suspects without due process on US soil.

Still, rescinding the measures could have potential benefits for a more humane approach to terrorism suspects, despite the Obama administration’s poor track record on such change. Some of the provisions, if passed, would make it virtually impossible to try terror suspects in federal courts and would  shift all terror suspects into immediate military custody, dodging the civilian authorities traditionally tasked with such cases.

Eleven retired generals, admirals and former judge advocate generals have come out in opposition to the legislation, saying it “would transform our armed forces into judge, jury and jailor for foreign terrorist suspects. The military’s mission is to prosecute wars, not terrorists.”

The largely partisan debate is indicative of how narrow the spectrum of politics is in America: only unimportant marginal figures disagree about stripping terrorism suspects of their rights. Plus, since the administration has fully signed on to the Bush administration’s detention policy, moving it from Guantanamo is merely symbolic, not substantive.

Author: John Glaser

John Glaser writes for