President-Elect Obama has already shown that he's ready to hit the ground running when he takes the oath on January 20, 2009. In the last couple of days, I've seen articles talking about his administration's readiness to review and reverse a large number of executive orders dealing with every subject from climate change to abortion and a number in between. Of course, the economy is already garnering a lot of attention, as well as the Iraq War and the latest smack talk coming from Russia over our SDI missiles in Poland.
But one of the nastiest messes the Bush administration will leave behind in terms of human rights will be the Guantanamo Bay prison. And if this piece is any indication, President Obama does not plan to take the easy out of the mess.
Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.I'm pleased with the first two parts of this plan. I've written about the Uighurs in the past; they're a clear example of the first group that we as a nation owe a clear debt to. Our military swept these people up on the battlefield, or took them from our "allies" who claimed the bounty on them, and now we're responsible for them. Keeping them in a prison is inhumane, because they didn't do anything wrong, and sending them back to a country where they could face imprisonment and torture is equally unacceptable. We not only owe them a home, we owe them reparations.
A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final.
I'm of the opinion that everyone else should be in the second group--they have to be tried in civilian courts, under US law and rules of evidence, and let the chips fall where they may. We'll lose some of those cases because confessions were extracted under torture and because the previous administration didn't see fit to follow their own rules, but that can't be helped. We have to find other countries to take them, and if that doesn't happen, we have to find a place for them here. Is that dangerous? No more so than keeping open a prison system that acts as a recruitment tool for al Qaeda. And a change in policy will enhance our standing around the world--it will show that the US is giving more than lip service to the cause of human rights. It won't be easy, but it needs to be done.