Column: Jumping the gun on Gitmo
On the campaign trail, President Obama had a clear plan for the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay: "We're going to close Guantanamo.... We're going to lead by example," he told a Texas crowd in June 2007.
Just two days after his inauguration, the president set January 2010 as the arbitrary deadline to close the facility. But now the administration is finding that shuttering it is no easy task. With the deadline fast approaching, we have far more questions than answers about what the administration will do with these dangerous terrorists.
Where will it hold them? Will they be brought to the United States? Will they be kept in military facilities and federal prisons across the country? If so, will terrorists be afforded the same constitutional rights Americans have? How will the administration guarantee that released detainees do not return to the battlefield? And, most importantly, how does closing Guantanamo make Americans safer?
We don't yet have answers to any of these questions, but the administration still says it plans to proceed with the closure and recently asked Congress for $80 million to do so. Some of this money, as the request makes clear, could be used to transfer these detainees to the United States.
I doubt that any community wants to house these terrorists; but bringing them here would also violate a federal law that specifically forbids entry into our country of anyone who endorses or espouses terrorism, has received terrorist training, or belongs to a terrorist group.
And it's not just the United States that has concerns about the danger posed by the detainees. When Attorney General Eric Holder asked several European nations to imprison some of them on their soil, they refused, with the exception of France, which agreed to take one prisoner.
Clearly, the stakes are high and the concerns are real with regard to the terrorist population at Guantanamo. The terrorists at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst-some of the most dangerous people in the world.
They include 27 al Qaeda leaders, including the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, key al Qaeda operatives and Osama bin Laden lieutenants, as well as the orchestrator of the attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors in October 2000. In total, 241 terrorists remain under military guard at Guantanamo.
Of these, the Bush administration stated that 110 of them should never be released because of the danger they pose to Americans.
And those considered "safe" for release: The Department of Defense said in January that 61 previously released Guantanamo detainees had returned to the battlefield to plot against the United States and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
One such recidivist, Said Ali al-Shihri, was repatriated to Saudi Arabia after his release from Guantanamo. He promptly fled to Yemen and is now the number two commander of Yemen's al-Qaeda organization.
Closing Guantanamo Bay may placate the president's liberal allies who want to hold him to his campaign promise. But decisions about national security shouldn't be based on political promises. We must not move forward without a responsible plan that ensures the safety of all Americans.
As Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson once said, "In matters of national security, the best politics is no politics."