Congressional Democrats and President Obama ran on the platform of significantly changing the direction of this country, from domestic policy to national security. But lately, Democrats have been taking a number of actions on national security that are alarming at best and hypocritical at worst. This post is part of Sam Sedaei's new blog series "Democrites," coming from the perspective of a member of loyal opposition, to call Democrats out on their questionable actions when they occur.
It is at this point the general consensus among historians and international affairs expert that a number of policies that President Bush put in place in the name of defending national security ended up hurting America and its interests abroad. These included the war in Iraq, torture of detainees in Abu Gharib prison, and the holding and torture of suspects at Guantanamo Bay detention center indefinitely, in horrid conditions, without a charge and without legal representation. President Obama understood the value that such actions had for Al Qaeda and other extremists' propaganda efforts. While campaigning, he wisely promised to close Guantanamo and bring the 240 detainees into the American legal system for appropriate legal procedures, and he kept that promise when two days after the inauguration, he issued an executive order to close Guantanamo within the year (with the Senate Democrats standing in support behind him).
But on Monday, those Senate Democrats sheepishly joined with Republicans to block President Obama's $80 million request for the closing of Guantanamo.
The event seemed to be the predictable result of a misguided conventional wisdom that had been forming on Capitol Hill for weeks, which is we cannot bring these detainees into the United States because "they are the worst of the worst." Well, there are major flaws in that argument. For one, we cannot operate on the assumption that everyone at Guantanamo is a criminal because in this country, there is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. And as long as there is the presumption of innocence, there is no justification for treating the detainees as if they have already been charged, indicted and convicted.
The second flaw is rooted in a statement Senator Harry Reid made when trying to justify Senate Democrats' 180. He said on Monday, "We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States." But that is not an unavoidable consequence of bringing the detainees within the American legal system.
Once the detainees go through the legal process, there can be two outcomes: they are either charged and convicted -- in which case they will be off the streets and in the American prison system -- or they are released. Democrats and Republicans stood on the Senate floors on Monday, and -- with the c-span cameras rolling for their constituents -- showed strong opposition to "bringing the terrorists in the United States." Of course, if terrorists are brought into the legal system, they would be technically (i.e. geographically) "in the United States," and that sounds bad. But are we seriously worried about these terrorists escaping the most highly secured "supermax" prisons in the Untied States that currently house the worst criminals, drug gang leaders, murderers, and by the way, terrorists this country has seen? Our children's reading and math skills may not be in the top 10 in the world, but the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country on earth. This is something we know how to do quite well! How are these terrorists any worse or more capable of escaping the American supermax prisons than those other murderers already in them?
And what if they are found not guilty -- or found guilty and served their terms -- and are released? Do they have to walk around freely in the United States? Not necessarily! As the debate on Guantanamo took place, the United States quietly released a terrorist named Khalid Al-Jawary in late February after serving 16 years for plotting to attack New York City in 1973, placing 3 bombs in cars (which failed to detonate). Upon his release, he was handed over to immigration, which took him under custody for being in this country illegally. Federal agents immediately got on an airplane and took him to Sudan where he was released. Al Jawary's case demonstrates a perfect example for the kind of procedure that can take place when terrorists are tried according to U.S. laws, convicted and released.
The last main concern of those Senate Democrats banding together to derail President Obama's plan has to do with the question of what would happen if the terrorists are released in a foreign country (whether immediately due to a lack of evidence for a charge or after being convicted and serving their sentences)? Would they go back to their old ways of plotting against American interests or start doing so if they never had before?
First, as for the ones who were previously involved in fight against the Americans, the answer to this question is irrelevant because we never ask this when releasing other criminals and murders after they serve their sentences. The American legal system is responsible for prosecuting crimes that have already been committed, not making predictions about criminal behavior and prejudge individuals for crimes they're likely to commit.
And as for the ones who were falsely detained, it is likely that they have amassed enough resentment toward the United States to join the anti-American forces. But the main reason for doing so would most likely be financially driven, and that has a solution, too. If the United States truly detained individuals indefinitely without evidence, it has the moral responsibility to offer the detainees reparations for their pain and suffering.
But besides our moral responsibility, we would also have a smart national security rationale to not only offer reparations to those detainees, but offer them paying jobs in their home countries. By doing so, we would effectively take away the main reason most terrorists become terrorists: a paycheck. It may sound controversial to put "terrorists" on American payroll, but keep in mind that such a plan would only be offered to those who were falsely detained, which means they are not terrorists.
These are just some of the options that together can make up a comprehensive plan to close Guantanamo. But by refusing to fund President Obama's plan, Senate Democrats showed that they are once again falling back into the old losing trend of caving to Republicans and Dick Cheney on national security.