President Obama should expunge his executive order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in the wake of the operation to kill Sept. 11 terrorist Osama bin Laden. The killing of al Qaeda’s leader, in part due to intelligence gathered at Gitmo, underlines the value of keeping terrorists in a military jail.
“It is my sincere hope that the president reconsiders his decision to stop sending detainees with useful intelligence to Guantanamo and that he would change course by publicly stating that now is not the time to close the facility,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, told The Washington Times.
After a decade-long search, capturing bin Laden was a great victory for the U.S., but fighting the war on terror is still the central national security objective for our nation. Bin Laden’s death may temporarily slow down one terrorist group, but independent al Qaeda affiliates and other terrorist networks - Hezbollah and Hamas among them - will continue their mission to destroy America. To fight this war, we need to continue to imprison and interrogate terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Keeping them at the military base enables the skilled intelligence and military interrogators to gather the valuable information to capture other war criminals, like bin Laden, and prevent future attacks on Americans, something that is far less likely in the civilian justice system.
“The operation against Osama bin Laden proves that intelligence derived from detention facilities contributes to the larger war effort. Actionable intelligence is a puzzle pieced together from a wide array of sources, and we need every source we can get,” Mr. McKeon said Wednesday.
The U.S. was able to track bin Laden to a suburban house in Pakistan by tracking a courier who worked at the hideaway. Interrogators learned the courier’s identity from detainees in the war on terror, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is at Guantanamo Bay.
Among Mr. Obama’s first major acts as president was signing an executive order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay a mere two days after moving into the White House. In the more than two years since, the president has failed to meet his own directive because of both the public and defense community disagreement with the policy.
If Mr. Obama’s executive order had been implemented, the suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay would have been either been moved to federal prisons in the U.S. (one was built for this purpose in Illinois) or released overseas. Had the detainees been put in the U.S. civilian court system, they would have been interrogated by the Justice Department, whose employees are not as well trained to extract valuable information from hardened terrorists or to recognize the strategic value of any details obtained.
Congressional Republicans have responded to the White House executive order on terrorist detainees by drafting legislation to counteract the plan. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which will be marked up in committee next Wednesday, will include several key provisions to keep Guantanamo Bay open and the detainees treated under the law of war.
In March, Mr. Obama released yet another unilateral executive order, which restarted military trials at Guantanamo Bay but also gave Gitmo prisoners more legal rights. The next day, Mr. McKeon responded by introducing the Detainee Security Act of 2011, which would give Congress the authority to dictate policy for handling the accused terrorists. The legislation would do the following: Keep Guantanamo Bay open (disregarding the 2009 executive order); ban any current or future detainees at Guantanamo Bay from being brought to the United States; reaffirm that military law is in effect for al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist networks; prevent detainees from being released to third countries that do not have adequate security to keep them from returning to the battlefield; and withdraw the new legal rights bestowed on the detainees by the White House.
Mr. McKeon will release his chairman’s mark for the Defense Authorization bill on Monday and it will contain several of the key provisions from the Detainee Security Act. The Republican-controlled committee is expected to pass the bill with the Guantanamo Bay provisions intact, but final reconciliation with the Democratic Senate will be required.
Congress should not have to force Mr. Obama to give up on his failed efforts to bring accused terrorists to the United States for civilian trials. The president must admit now that intelligence and military interrogations are vital to tracking down terrorists and preventing the deaths of more innocent Americans. Guantanamo Bay has been a successful tool in the war on terror, and Mr. Obama’s executive order to close it should be expunged.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for opinion at The Washington Times.