Forget Torture—Obama Can't Let the Guantanamo Detainees Loose in the U.S.

This is about national security, not the political bait of torture.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

In one of his first acts as president, in an example of putting the cart way, way out in front of the horse, Barack Obama issued an order closing the detention facility used to house suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What neither the order then nor the administration now have resolved is the problem of what to do with the detainees once the Gitmo facility is closed. One alternative, which has been much in the news, has been to transfer them to facilities inside the United States, where they can either be tried or released into the general population.

Predictably, this idea does not sit well with any number of folks who fear the possibility of having a suspected terrorist for a neighbor.

Obama has given the responsibility for coming up with a plan to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who spent some time out of the country this week in pursuit of a solution. On Wednesday, he took his plea for assistance to Germany where, in a speech at the American Academy in Berlin, he asked our European allies to take in detainees whom the United States does not consider to be a present security threat in order to accelerate the Gitmo facility's closure.

"I know that Europe did not open Guantanamo and that in fact a great many on this continent opposed it," Holder said in his remarks. "To close Guantanamo, we must all make sacrifices, and we must all be willing to make unpopular choices."

But the fact that Holder is looking to find places for the detainees to relocate means the cart is still out in front of the horse. Any sensible solution to the problem of what to do with the detainees must involve identifying and tracking the movements of those who are released to make sure they maintain their good behavior.

If Congressional Republicans were smart, they would take this issue up rather than rise to the bait the Democrats are dangling concerning whether, and how, any of these detainees might have been tortured. The issue, for most of the American people, is not whether these detainees were tortured—even if most of us reject the idea that it was OK to do so—but what they might do once they are back in circulation.

Rep. John Shadegg, an Arizona Republican, has introduced legislation that would block them from applying for U.S. citizenship should they be released into this country or even if they are transferred to the United States but remain in government custody.

That's a good first step, but it doesn't go far enough. What the GOP and any security-minded Democrats should really do is insist, and get it written into law, that the U.S. Department of Justice or the FBI needs to keep an eye on the detainees once they are released and submit to Congress once per quarter—perhaps to the members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees—a report on their activities for a fixed period, say five years. Treat the detainees like they are on parole. And, if any of them are rearrested or caught engaging in acts of terror against the United States or its interests, that their names—and the fact that they were once held as suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay—be made a matter of public record.

The shock of 9-11 has faded, but the memory hasn't. America needs to be reassured that the Obama administration is doing everything it should to keep us safe from another attack. Letting the Gitmo detainees loose in the United States or anywhere else without any kind of supervision is several steps in exactly the wrong direction.

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  • Read more by Peter Roff.
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  • Read more about Guantanamo Bay.