President Barack Obama has asked Congress to agree to close the prison at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba and transfer nearly 60 terrorists to as-yet undesignated prisons in the United States, likely including the Naval Consolidated Brig in Hanahan. Gov. Nikki Haley and Republicans on the South Carolina congressional delegation are right to reject his call.
As Sen. Tim Scott said in a Tuesday statement, “The law could not be any clearer: President Obama does not have the authority to move dozens of dangerous terrorists from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to American communities. Instead of trying to empty out Gitmo and moving dozens of dangerous terrorists to South Carolina, Kansas or Colorado, the president needs to put our national security interests first.”
Congress has repeatedly said that no federal funds can be used to transfer the prison’s inmates to the United States, and can be expected to maintain that position. That should rule out any unilateral move by the administration to close Guantanamo.
There can be no doubt about Mr. Obama’s earnest intention to close the Guantanamo prison. As he said Tuesday, “I’m absolutely committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. I’m going to continue to make the case for doing so for as long as I hold this office.”
But even the president has to follow the law.
Mr. Obama contended Tuesday that “Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it.”
But in a world that has given rise to the Islamic State it is hard to credit the argument that the existence of Guantanamo incites terror.
In a recent op-ed column for The Washington Post, Gordon England, a former deputy secretary of defense, observed that some of the terrorists who have been released from Guantanamo have returned to the same nefarious activities for which they had been jailed.
“Those who remain had a record of participating in terrorism, financing terrorism or outright leadership of terrorist activity,” Mr. England wrote.
Nevertheless, President Obama has taken the position that capturing terrorists, incarcerating them at Guantanamo and interrogating them is a moral stain on the United States.
The president has instead adopted a policy of killing terrorists with drone strikes, despite the broader scope for collateral damage. It remains a question whether this policy is the more effective one.
In a little over four weeks Mr. Obama is headed to Cuba for a state visit to the Castro brothers, who may be considered experts in the political use of prisons. As a condition of formal diplomatic recognition of the Cuban regime in 2014, U.S. officials insisted on the release of 53 political prisoners. But the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation last year estimated that another 60 long-time prisoners remain in Cuban jails for dissident activity.
In addition, Cuba regularly engages in short-term mass arrests and beatings to suppress human rights demonstrations. It did so during demonstrations last April by the Women in White, again in September during the visit of Pope Francis, and then in December during United Nations Human Rights Day.
If President Obama is concerned about the moral message from prisons in Cuba, let him call on its government to free all dissidents not convicted of using violence, end the suppression of human rights activists and hold free elections.
And if he’s serious about minimizing the terror threat, he should abandon his misguided proposal to bring Guantanamo detainees to any U.S. site — including the Naval Brig in Hanahan.