Obama’s first mistake

In a post I wrote on election night, I said that “a part of me desperately wants to believe that Obama will be [a] breath of fresh air….[but] I remain profoundly afraid that he’s just not ready for the job.”   I didn’t vote for him, but I hoped that I was wrong about him not being ready, while fearing that I was right.  Today I got my first inkling that I might have been right.

In a front page story written by Joseph Williams and Bryan Bender which appeared in today’s Boston Globe, it was reported how President Obama is apparently ready to sign an executive order suspending trials at Guantanamo Bay, including the trials of the five suspected terrorists who allegedly masterminded the 9/11 attacks, as well as closing the facility altogether in a year’s time.  This is not surprising in itself; he said he would do that when he was running for office.

But here’s the sentence that froze the blood in my veins:  “Longtime advisers on the issue said Obama would probably establish a team to conduct a case-by-case review of the evidence against all 245 detainees remaining at the prison with the aim of sending as many as possible back home” (emphasis mine).

Sending “as many as possible back home”?  As in: let them go free?  Can someone please tell me why this would be a good idea?  The people held prisoner in Gitmo aren’t there because of overdue parking tickets, right?

Look, by all means review the cases as expeditiously as possible.  One can certainly argue that this should have been done already.  If you have evidence against them, try them.  If you don’t, release them.  That’s how our system of justice is supposed to work.  And admittedly, Gitmo has not always worked very well.

But it’s the “aim of sending as many as possible back home” part that’s really scaring me here.  My immediate problem with this is that the 245 are there because they are suspected al-Qaeda, Taliban or other foreign fighters who pose a threat to the United States.  This means it’s a safe bet that they hate America.  I think it’s also a safe bet that the years spent at Gitmo haven’t done much to change that.  So what do you suppose these guys are going to do upon their release?   Well, here’s a wild guess:  they’re probably going to engage in more terrorist activities.

Now I suppose it’s possible that the Globe reporters have somehow gotten it wrong.  There is also talk of relocating these prisoners to Kansas and or Pennsylvania.   This raises another thorny issue:  if we close Gitmo, where do we put them? It seems like nobody wants these guys.

All this really amounts to is a symbolic gesture from Obama (see, world? that bad man George Bush is gone!  It’s OK to like America again!)  Unfortunately, foreign policy isn’t about being liked, it’s about being respected, even feared.  People don’t attack you if they’re afraid of you.  If you have any doubt of that, ask yourself this: when was the last time Russia or China was attacked by terrorists (or anyone else, for that matter)?

I know this all sounds rather bellicose, but that’s just how it is.  Sure, the Bush administration cut corners and was ham fisted in some of its approaches, but stop to consider the difficulty of the job they had.  It would be nice if terrorists would all go around wearing Osama bin Laden t-shirts, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.  The terrorist’s stock in trade is secrecy.  Piercing that veil often takes extraordinary measures.  While you might not have liked the CIA’s tactics, you can’t argue with the results: there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11.

This is usually the part where the hand wringers start whining about “torture”, which I always find ironic, given the amount of suffering the victims of the 9/11 attacks must have gone through before they died.  Come to think of it, what is the score on that account?  Let’s see, that would be: People Who Died on 9/11–2,985 vs. People Who Have Died at Gitmo: 0.

Yes, torture, in this case water boarding, isn’t very nice.  But last time I checked, neither is blowing up buildings and killing innocent people.  It amazes and disgusts me that some in this country have more sympathy for terrorists than for their victims.

In a nutshell:  if you have information about past or (more importantly) pending terrorist activities, I want our government to get that information out of you, by any means necessary.  Now since I’m basically a softie, I’m all in favor of giving you the chance to volunteer this information, well, voluntarily.  But if it turns out that the only reason you’re giving up this information is because it’s the only way you can think of to stop the pain, I’m fine with that.  Almost 3,000 people (maybe more) died on 9/11.  If subjecting you to some temporary discomfort will prevent that from happening again, then so be it.

I still have hopes that Obama will be a good president, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s off to a bad start with this one.  If he closes Guantanamo, he has made the world a more dangerous place for all of us.


11 Responses to “Obama’s first mistake”

  1. January 23, 2009 at 7:09 am

    Finally someone who thinks on the same plan, in the same REALITY as I do. This is a very good, well written post. You have a very good point. And let’s hope Obama is smart enough NOT to just let these guys go. Let’s hope the Globe was just wrong on that last part. Because I’m pretty damn sure if most Americans (aside from the whiners) found out that he is going to LET THESE PEOPLE GO — they would go ape shit on Obama. And if it is his intent for that to happen, let’s hope that someone, somewhere has the balls to step up and tell him so.

    I really don’t think Obama and his team have really thought this through. I’ll be amazed if he really goes through with it.

  2. January 23, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    A very well thought out post, Smith.
    I agree, send some of these clowns home? NOT!
    I’m thinking the media lost something in the translation (I hope to God they did)
    and hopefully these thugs will go to a place worse than hell.
    As C.A.N. said, this could be the precursor to ultimately opening relations with Cuba.
    I for one, am all for that.
    The Cold War should have been over years ago. (thanks, JFK)
    Headlines are scary sometimes but they are occasionally ‘just that’ as they lose credibility and clarity when the truth comes to light.
    As far as Obama goes, he has a long ass road ahead and it’s already rocky as hell.
    I’m praying for the man.
    As far as Gitmo goes, I say fry the bastards. End of story. No worries about where the douchebags have to go.

    For once, you and I are in complete agreement. 😉

  3. January 24, 2009 at 5:45 am

    I thought the best place to send them would be straight to hell, but that’s just me.

    Unfortunately, sending souls to the Infernal Regions doesn’t lie within our bailiwick. 😦

    You know what shits me the most about this?
    These low lifes, if they’re allowed to go home, will be welcomed as if they’re hereoes, gather some strength and start planning their next attack on the country that was stupid enough to let them go.

    True, up to a point. Interestingly, one of the concerns of the Bush administration (and a legitimate one it was) was that at least some of them would be summarily executed by their home countries without the benefit of a fair trial.

    Then there are people like Mark and I who have to almost jump through freaking hoops in order to spend 2 weeks over there for a holiday, because of slime like this…go figure!

    Go figure, indeed.

  4. January 24, 2009 at 11:28 am

    If in fact they are guilty then you have a point. Unfortunately last I recalled no one ever had any trial nor did we hear what the charges were against the prisoners.

    First of all, of the more than 800 prisoners once held at Gitmo, all but 250 have been released. The ones that are left are likely the worst of the bunch and probably there for very good reason. Yes, there’s a chance that we’re holding innocent people, but there’s also a chance that we’d be letting some very dangerous people go free. I know which chance I would rather take.

    Second, you’re assuming that these people are common criminals and are therefore entitled to due process. Frankly, I disagree. They are prisoners of war, and are, at best, entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. And make no mistake, Bryan, we are at war with fundamentalist Islam. They have publicly sworn to destroy the U. S., as well as Israel. Prisoners of war don’t get due process. They remain prisoners until the war is over. Since this war will not be over until either the U. S. or fundamentalist Islam is destroyed, these people are likely to be prisoners for a long time, and I, for one, have no problems whatsoever with that.

    And yes, I know the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, but all that really means is that the prisoners have a right to appeal their imprisonment. In practical terms, this really means nothing, as their appeals will almost certainly be denied.

    I would also mention that at least 60 of the ones released have rejoined terrorist organizations. 60 that we know of, that is.

    Last I checked this is what we built democracy on.

    What you’re missing here is that fundamentalist Islam isn’t the slightest bit interested in democracy. They want to destroy democracy. Last I checked.

    For one, there is a 21 year old Canadian that was accused of throwing a hand grenade at an American Soldier during the Afganistan war. He was placed in Gitmo at 15 and has not had a trial or counsel since. In most countries we would have called him a child soldier and have tried to protect him. Because of 9/11 we treat him very differently. Sorry Smith and Michael I cannot agree with this post in any way shape or form.

    I would have been surprised if you did. But your examples are rather weak. Throwing a grenade at a soldier is an act of war. You don’t get due process in this situation. You don’t get a trial. As I noted above, you’re a prisoner until the war is over.

    If you’re rounding up enemy soldiers after a battle, you don’t have to read them their Miranda rights. You seem to be looking at this as just another form of cops and robbers, and it’s not. It’s a war, and the rules are different in a war.

    Our democracy is built on due and fair process, something that America threw out after 9/11.

    Bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think?

    It is the thing that most of the rest of the free world would condemn as breaking international law at best and likely breaks the Geneva Convention. This to me means that the terrorists win. They have created fear in most in the US to the point where our values for freedom have been thrown out the window. It is the response of the US that has most of the rest of the world not respecting it’s leadership or believing in its principles any longer.

    The fear is justified. The irony here is that fundamentalist Islam cynically exploits these values (free speech, due process, religious tolerance) with the ultimate goal of creating a Muslim theocracy in which none of those values will exist. I have to emphasize that I am only referring to Islam in its most radical, fundamentalist incarnation, as I realize full well that they represent only a small percentage of all Muslims. But they’re the ones we have get tough with because they’re the one’s causing all the problems. And yes, some of the things we have to do are regrettable, but necessary given the nature of the enemy we’re fighting .

    There is hope however; Obama seems to have the wisdom to see that diplomacy and co-operation with all nations is necessary to beat the terrorists (yes that includes Muslim states).

    And for that I applaud him. By all means reach out to as many as possible, but don’t be surprised when some do not reciprocate in kind.

    One final thought; how many innocent people who are not terrorists have been killed in Afganistan and Iraq since the start of the war. Unfortunatly it is far above 3000. ((http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101001442_2.html) ). Do not get me wrong any life for me is of the highest importance but I am not sure a innocent Canadian or American life is worth more than an innocent life elsewhere in the world.

    You have a rather curious notion of cause and effect. I would simply point out to you that none of those Afghans or Iraqis would have lost their lives at that time if those 3000 Americans not lost theirs. We were absolutely justified going into Afghanistan. Iraq? Well, that’s another matter and another debate.

    On final thing to think about. I believe that responding in the way we did actually makes it more likely that there will be a terrorist attack as when innocent people have their loved one’s killed they tend to get pissed and then want to kill those who they believe are responsible.

    So your argument is that we shouldn’t fight back? Nonsense. Bryan, we are dealing with people who do not value human life, and who do no negotiate. Fundamentalist Islam does not want to be cooperated with, it wants to be obeyed. The only thing these people understand is violence, and the only way to deal with them is to be violent in turn. I’m not saying I like it that way, but it’s just how it is. Remember, my son spent a year over there, and the things he’s told me about how those people conduct themselves would turn your stomach. I don’t want to go into gory details, but suffice to say those people do not share our values, and they certainly do not value human life.

    I would also like to remind you that this didn’t start with George Bush. Muslim hatred for the west has been going on for a long, long time. Remember, Bill Clinton also sent a few cruise missiles into Iraq during his terms.

    Just look at your post as well as the responses. None of you really know whether these people are all guilty. The way we determine that in North America is to try and convict.

    Already answered this, so there’s no point in rehashing it. I will say that, yes, Gitmo is imperfect. It probably could have been run better. But you don’t close down the the local jailhouse because someone was wrongfully convicted. You don’t disband the LAPD because of what happened to Rodney King.

    So Gitmo is better than no Gitmo, in my opinion. If a little judicious water boarding will prevent another terrorist attack, then I say fetch the pail.

    Again not Spaz writing this, as you might guess.

    Oh, now THERE’S a surprise. 😉

    Really more of a discussion over a beer in Toronto or Boston I think.

    Fair enough. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I more than welcome any comment you care to write, whether you agree with me or not.

    So make mine an Irish whiskey and you’ve got a deal. 😉

    (Spaz here, keeping quiet, but finding myself having to agree with Bryan. And not because Bryan thinks it’s my wifely duty 🙂 ).

    The irony of this statement seems to have eluded you. Do you realize that in the intolerant, misogynistic world envisioned by most of the Gitmo detainees, agreeing with your husband would not be an option? You agree with him, of suffer physical violence. Furthermore, I don’t think you would look very good in a burkha.

  5. January 25, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    We still have detainees from the Cuban Boat People fiasco. It is hard not to keep them from being a pain in the ass as they know that they will never get out of prison. These detainees could end up the same way if moved to American soil.

  6. January 29, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Hey Smith,

    hope you are feeling better! 🙂

    I am, as my reply to your comment above probably demonstrates.

  7. February 2, 2009 at 6:55 am

    It’s ok to have a comment.

    It certainly is.

  8. 8 Bryan
    February 3, 2009 at 8:23 am


    I could respond but I really think it is a difference of fundamental beliefs and as such the debate could go on forever. I do not ask you to change your mind without thought just to think about the issues. The issue of hating the west has been around for a long time and there are some good reasons for it (not that I advocate for any terrorism of any kind nor do I think that there should not be a response when someone attacks another country). It was an opportunity to think about the issues in a different way. Really needs the beer discussion to be fruitful.


  9. 9 Bryan
    February 3, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Oh Smith

    By the way I take no offence to your post. A good debate is always good when it is not personal but instead focuses on the issues. Speak to you later


  10. February 3, 2009 at 11:51 am

    My goodness, Bryan, aren’t you the early bird! Considering I responded to you at about 3 in the morning, I was genuinely surprised to your comments this morning. You’ve definitely earned your worm today, my friend. 😉

    I really think it is a difference of fundamental beliefs and as such the debate could go on forever.

    No, you’re just wrong. 😉

    Okay, seriously: many of your points are certainly well made. It is in inarguable that the Bush administration undeniably bungled a great many things. If you’ve read any of my political posts you will surely know that I am not a big George Bush fan.

    But it’s a moot point. Bush is gone, Obama is in, and if nothing else I think it’s safe to say that Obama has, if nothing else, a more nuanced view of the world than Bush. I’m sure you would agree with me there.

    So another way to look at is: if we can count on Obama to do a better job, then why NOT leave Gitmo open? Surely he could have been counted on to get the bugs out of the place.

    The problem is: what do we do with the ones that are left. If we let them go, some, or perhaps many, will undoubtedly resume terrorist activities. Some may very well be executed by their own countries without a fair trial, an equally undesirable result.

    I really don’t think Obama and his people have completely thought this through. You wait: I’ll bet you a beer or two that Gitmo is still going strong at the end of a year, as the difficulties inherent in this decision begin to manifest themselves.

  11. February 3, 2009 at 11:53 am

    By the way I take no offence to your post. A good debate is always good when it is not personal but instead focuses on the issues.

    Glad to hear it. As I said, I certainly welcome your opinion here, even when we disagree. All I can say is it’s going to be an interesting four years.

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