Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:54 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:54 | SYDNEY

Gitmo: Obama confronts reality


Andrew Shearer

4 June 2009 13:28

Lofty promises are well and good during an election campaign. Close Guantanamo Bay and keep Americans safe? – ‘yes we can’. Well, maybe. Plenty of officials in the Bush Administration would have liked to get rid of Gitmo too. But President Obama is finding it’s hard to have it both ways in government.

First, Obama vacillated about whether to prosecute officials involved in interrogation practices authorised by the Bush Administration, dismaying left-wing Democrats when he ultimately decided not to. Next came his back-flip on the release of detainee abuse photos. Then – having railed against Military Commission trials during the campaign – Obama announced his Administration will retain them after all. Some terror suspects will remain detained indefinitely without trial.

Guantanamo was always a least worst option intended to bridge a genuine legal dilemma and a national security imperative. Closing it would no doubt give a fillip to international perceptions of the US (Obama is on his way to Cairo to give his much-touted address to the Islamic world). It would also throw a bone to the progressive wing of his party, which propelled him to victory.

Dick Cheney may not win too many popularity contests, but he certainly seems to have bested the silver-tongued orator in their recent head-to-head debate on national security. A poll just released by Gallup shows that a large majority of Americans – 64 per cent – do not want Guantanamo closed. They oppose the Administration’s plans to move some detainees to US prisons by an overwhelming three to one margin. Forty per cent agreed with Cheney that Guantanamo had helped to make America safer; only 18 per cent accepted Obama’s assertion that housing detainees there had made the country less secure.

Numbers like that will only reinforce the concerns of Senate Democrats who recently blocked an Administration request for funds to close the Guantanamo facility.

It may be that Obama has succeeded in wedging himself – time will tell. But one thing is certain: he is learning the hard way that national security involves difficult choices and isn’t always compatible with political point scoring.

Photo by Flickr user writingjulie, used under a Creative Commons license.