For years, he and his fellow Democrats delighted in demagoguing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the military is still holding approximately 250 alleged enemy combatants men (down from over 800). Now, after all their bombast about the urgent need to close the facility — the better, they harangued, to improve our standing in the “international community” (compared to whose prisons Gitmo is actually a model of humaneness) — the president-elect must face a harsh reality.
For the American community, Gitmo was never the problem, and closing it will not solve anything.
Candidate Obama called for a return of pre-9/11 counterterrorism thinking, meaning full-blown civilian trials for all captured terrorists. Come January 20, though, President Obama’s principal task will be to protect the national security of the United States, not to secure the admiration of Human Rights Watch. Thus he will confront the stubborn fact the not every jihadist who poses a danger to American lives can be brought to trial and proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in accordance with our civilian due process standards.
When he finally assumes the Oval Office, the realization will come quickly — if it hasn’t already — that international terrorism fueled by Islamic extremism is different, not just in degree but in kind, from even the worst waves of violent crime. The criminal justice system is simply not capable of apprehending and neutralizing everyone we need to capture and sideline.
A certain component of human nature — the one that watched the Left mercilessly drub President Bush as he tried to protect the country — yearns to revel in Obama’s self-induced straits. That impulse needs to be resisted. The president-elect promised a host of things he won’t be able to deliver. For those seeking to score political points, it’s not like there won’t be opportunities aplenty. National security, however, is something we need him to get right.
PROTECT LIFE OR PROVE GUILT? So here is some unsolicited but earnestly offered advice: Mr. President-elect, you and your emissaries should not make any more public commitments about what will happen with Gitmo and the detainees until your transition team has ample opportunity to study each individual combatant case. There has already been way too much uninformed commentary. This only hamstrings your maneuvering room and stands to damage your credibility when, as is inevitable, you find disproportion between a detainee’s actual dangerousness and the courtroom provability of his dangerousness.