The Latest Bad Idea for Guantánamo

The Latest Bad Idea for Guantánamo

- in House of Representatives


Camp X-Ray, where the first detainees sent to Guantánamo Bay were housed.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Soon after the detainee population at Guantánamo Bay dropped to 61 last month, Republicans in the House went into a panic. Representative Jackie Walorski of Indiana figured it was time to halt any and all new transfers.

“Americans are safer with these dangerous detainees securely locked up,” she railed on Thursday on the House floor, urging others to back a bill that would halt detainee resettlements until more onerous restrictions could be placed on releases or President Obama left office.

Speaker Paul Ryan offered a full-throated endorsement, which helped the bill pass the House with 244 votes. Republicans, who have barred the Pentagon from transferring detainees to the United States and made it difficult to repatriate them, have worked ceaselessly to prevent Mr. Obama from keeping his pledge to shut down the prison in his first year in office. They can stop worrying about it now. White House officials are resigned to having to hand over the prison, and its legal morass, to the next administration.

Since it opened in 2002, the prison has been an emblem of America at its worst, a place of torture, in which fundamental principles, including the right to due process, were abandoned. It has subjected Washington to international scorn and given credence to the propaganda of extremist groups. It is no coincidence that the Islamic State has adopted Guantánamo’s familiar orange jumpsuits in videos depicting the execution of Western hostages.

It may be fair to ask whether Mr. Obama moved too slowly to shut down Guantánamo early in his presidency. But administration officials cannot be accused of being reckless in winnowing the inmate population. Of the 161 detainees the Pentagon has released since Mr. Obama took office, nine, or 5.6 percent, are believed to have re-engaged with extremist groups, according to an intelligence assessment. Of the 532 released by President George Bush, 21 percent are believed to have returned to battle.

During their final months in office, White House officials hope to significantly reduce the detainee population. Of the 61 remaining prisoners, 20 are cleared for transfer if the government manages to find a suitable destination for each one. A few whose cases were recently reviewed by a board of national security officials may also be cleared for transfer. There are no plans to release the detainees who have pending cases before the military commission, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

While there appears to be little interest in the Senate in passing a bill like Ms. Walorski’s measure, her proposal is likely to be on the table when the House and Senate versions of the military spending bill are reconciled later this year. It would be a travesty to add further barriers to closing Guantánamo, a goal that the next president should make a priority.

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