I’ve never been a big fan of Guantanamo. If you read some of my past columns and editorials, such as this one, you’ll see that I’ve always found something inconsistent with how we treat enemy combatants and our principles of basic human rights.
But I’ve also understood that when you’re the leader, you have to make practical decisions that sometimes trump your ideals. President Barack Obama found that out this week as he lifted the ban on military trials at Guantanamo and essentially adopted George W. Bush’s position on the prison. (Click here for an NPR story, here for a USA Today story, and here for a Wall Street Journal piece.)
In fact, the president sounded like he was reading from a Bush-era teleprompter as he talked about bringing “terrorists to justice.” Officials in the administration spoke of protecting American security.
The biggest obstacle to closing Guantanamo is, of course, politics. No member of Congress wants the terrorists being housed at Guantanamo to be shipped to a prison in his or her district.
This abrupt reversal of a key campaign promise isn’t likely to hurt Obama much as long as he doesn’t face a re-election threat from the left.
What it does do, however, is confirm the Bush position that the war on terror is different from a conventional conflict. The combatants aren’t the subjects of a sovereign government who can order them to cease hostilities. Each of them represents an independent threat to national security, albeit to different degrees from individual to individual.