One of the challenges that will be facing Obama (assuming Bush doesn’t do something about it) is Guantanamo. Currently there are 255 prisoners there who are awaiting their fate. While there is speculation about what Obama will do, there are obviously no definite answers yet.
The Bush Administration’s handling of the situation has been something of a disaster for the United States. The commissions set up by this administration have been beset by legal challenges and the prison has served to undermine America’s standing as a just country which accepts the rule of law. As with individuals, a nation’s reputation is important. It is especially important for the United State because we Americans pride ourselves as being citizens of an ethical nation that respects life and liberty.
While the Guantanamo situation has stained America’s reputation and moral status, Obama has the chance to clean up this mess. Of course, the mess is a complex one and requires proper handling-lest another mess arise.
The ACLU has made its view clear-an ad was taken out in the New York Times exhorting Obama to close the prison as soon as he arrives in the Oval Office. While such a grand gesture is tempting, reality would seem to make this a non-viable option. After all (as the ACLU leadership knows) the situation is complex and complex situations need to be properly sorted out. That, of course, takes time.
The most pressing problem is, of course, what to do with the prisoners. Some of them are no doubt very bad people and what Bush called “cold-blooded killers.” Obviously, it would be unwise to simply let such people go. After all, they would no doubt for on to do more “bad things.” But, simply leaving them in prison indefinitely without trials would be immoral and would continue to damage America’s reputation.
The obvious solution would be to hold trials as soon as possible, preferably while the prison is being shut down. Ideally, the trials would be open-secret trials would probably just do more damage. Of course, there would have to be the usual weighing of national security against openness. However, national security has so often been invoked to hide misdeeds that its use might strike many as dubious and suspicious.
If trials are to be held, there is the question of where to hold them and where to keep the prisoners. Interestingly, while American prisons are supposedly able to hold the worst criminals, some claim that we do not have adequately secure facilities in the United States. However, it might be suspected that the opposition to bringing the prisoners into the United States is that this would have legal implications. But, if security is the main concern, secure facilities certainly could be provided. While this would be expensive, it could be money well spent-assuming that it is part of a process that helps restore America’s commitment to justice and rule of law.