It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.
Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.
The Obama administration may have failed to close Gitmo, but nor is it taking advantage of its facilities to incarcerate more suspected terrorists. Instead, the administration prefers to zap terrorists with drones. That’s perfectly lawful and appropriate but, where possible, it would be nice if terrorists could be captured and interrogated rather than simply killed–interrogation is the best way to unravel their plots.
Instead, we are in a legal no man’s land where it is easier to kill a terrorist than to lock him up. That is a nonsensical state of affairs that could be fixed by the Obama administration availing itself of the facilities and procedures that already exist at Gitmo. This is not just a question of logistics–detainees held at Gitmo can be interrogated without being read their Miranda rights and can be held even if there is not proof beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt that can be presented in open court. These are important advantages in the war on terror that the Obama administration should not throw away.