Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gitmo

Obama Sends Terrorists to Sub-Gitmo Hell

Among the unfortunate things about the ObamaCare ruling is that it’s taking oxygen away from some important stories. None more important than Eli Lake’s sensational scoop at the Daily Beast on the wretched facilities in Somalia where America is sending alleged terrorists caught in the expanded U.S. war on terror in that country. When Barack Obama came to office he described Guantanamo Bay as a “misguided experiment,” owing to the facility’s supposedly harsh conditions. He has since decreed that the United States will no longer accept new prisoners there (he was unable to close the facility altogether); Obama also shuttered CIA black site prisons in Europe. But if Gitmo was a “misguided experiment” and CIA sites beneath American standards of humane treatment, what on earth is this?

Overcrowded, underfunded, and reeking of urine, the Bosaso Central Prison could make even the most dedicated insurgent regret ever getting into the terrorism business. Many inmates don’t have shoes, and instead of uniforms, they wear filthy T-shirts and ankle-length garments wrapped around their waists that resemble sarongs (called ma-awis in Somali). When I visited earlier this year, the warden, Shura Sayeed Mohammed, told me he had 393 prisoners in a place designed to hold no more than 300. He said that since 2009, he had received 16 inmates captured by Americans.

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Among the unfortunate things about the ObamaCare ruling is that it’s taking oxygen away from some important stories. None more important than Eli Lake’s sensational scoop at the Daily Beast on the wretched facilities in Somalia where America is sending alleged terrorists caught in the expanded U.S. war on terror in that country. When Barack Obama came to office he described Guantanamo Bay as a “misguided experiment,” owing to the facility’s supposedly harsh conditions. He has since decreed that the United States will no longer accept new prisoners there (he was unable to close the facility altogether); Obama also shuttered CIA black site prisons in Europe. But if Gitmo was a “misguided experiment” and CIA sites beneath American standards of humane treatment, what on earth is this?

Overcrowded, underfunded, and reeking of urine, the Bosaso Central Prison could make even the most dedicated insurgent regret ever getting into the terrorism business. Many inmates don’t have shoes, and instead of uniforms, they wear filthy T-shirts and ankle-length garments wrapped around their waists that resemble sarongs (called ma-awis in Somali). When I visited earlier this year, the warden, Shura Sayeed Mohammed, told me he had 393 prisoners in a place designed to hold no more than 300. He said that since 2009, he had received 16 inmates captured by Americans.

Something tells me Bosaso’s inmates wouldn’t mind a transfer to Club Gitmo, where prisoners fatten up on halal chow, play pick-up basketball, take finance courses, and write poetry. As Lake explains, “Obama’s plan to get America out of the international jailer business means that developing-world prisons have picked up the slack.” So we’ve gone from the evil “Cheneyist” standard to the failed-state model, in which, according to Lake’s source, “guys end up with skin disease that spreads very quickly. It’s like a heat rash, they start bleeding, it passes onto the other prisoners.” And Lake was denied access to inmates associated with the al-Shabab terrorist group because, in the warden’s words, those men constitute a “virus” and “if we let them mix with the rest of the public, they can transmit the virus to the rest of the population.”

Far be it from me to shed a tear for terrorists rotting away in hellholes like Bosaso. The point is the president’s campaign against Gitmo was rooted in superficial moral vanity, not a deep morality. If he was so concerned about the treatment of captured terrorists it’s hard to see how he could sleep at night after having outsourced terrorist detention to Somalia. The same goes, of course, for his attendant war on waterboarding and enhanced interrogation. Under George W. Bush, the United States waterboarded three terrorists, all of whom gave up life-saving intelligence and then ended the enhanced interrogation program. Obama, on the other hand, made anti-enhanced-interrogation pronouncements, changed the definition of enemy combatant to any 18-year-old male in a given geographical area, and proceeded to incinerate scores of nameless such men in ramped up drone strikes in Muslim lands. Again, no one should have any illusions about the war on terror being a gruesome business. But it would be nice if one of Bush’s full-time amateur accusers pointed out Obama’s gargantuan moral hypocrisy and asked the president to comment on the nature of his post-Gitmo redemption plan for America.

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Now at Gitmo: Soccer Field and Cable TV

So President Obama never actually followed through on that campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. But as a modest consolation, the administration has reportedly made certain upgrades to the facility to enrich the lives of the detainees, including a world-class soccer field, a “communal living” environment with cable TV and entertainment, and life improvement classes. Yes, they are still detained indefinitely, but at least they can learn how to write a cover letter or hone their watercolor techniques:

Among the recent improvements to the facility commonly known as “Gitmo”: a heavily guarded soccer field for detainees known as “Super Rec,” which cost nearly $750,000 and opened this week; cable television in a communal living quarters and “enriching your life” classes for detainees, which include instruction on learning to paint, writing a resume  — even handling personal finances. …

Many of the improvements have been made at the most modern facility in the detention center, known as Camp VI, a communal living compound that houses about 80 percent of the 169 detainees currently held at Gitmo. There, detainees who are deemed to be compliant with the rules and therefore eligible for more privileges are able to watch 21 Cable TV channels, DVD movies, read newspapers and borrow books from a library.

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So President Obama never actually followed through on that campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. But as a modest consolation, the administration has reportedly made certain upgrades to the facility to enrich the lives of the detainees, including a world-class soccer field, a “communal living” environment with cable TV and entertainment, and life improvement classes. Yes, they are still detained indefinitely, but at least they can learn how to write a cover letter or hone their watercolor techniques:

Among the recent improvements to the facility commonly known as “Gitmo”: a heavily guarded soccer field for detainees known as “Super Rec,” which cost nearly $750,000 and opened this week; cable television in a communal living quarters and “enriching your life” classes for detainees, which include instruction on learning to paint, writing a resume  — even handling personal finances. …

Many of the improvements have been made at the most modern facility in the detention center, known as Camp VI, a communal living compound that houses about 80 percent of the 169 detainees currently held at Gitmo. There, detainees who are deemed to be compliant with the rules and therefore eligible for more privileges are able to watch 21 Cable TV channels, DVD movies, read newspapers and borrow books from a library.

You’ve got to be kidding. Only 21 cable channels available? It would have been so much more humane to simply drop a drone on their heads and get it over with.

Notice that Democrats pretty much stopped complaining about the detention facility after gaining control of the executive branch. Most of their concerns about civil liberties at Guantanamo Bay seemed to evaporate shortly after Obama’s election. The issue just never comes up anymore — and even the media lost interest in stories about alleged “mistreatment” at the facility. Also note that Democrats are pretty nonchalant about Obama’s “kill list,” and his increase in drone strikes. They were appalled with the idea of detaining terrorists and attempting to collect intelligence from them, but they support killing them in the desert with hellfire missiles.

For the record, I’m in favor of both. But how can you support the latter and not the former, and claim it’s for humanitarian reasons?

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RE: The No-Fly List Didn’t Work, Mr. Holder

After discovering that the federal no-fly list failed to keep Faisal Shahzad off a Dubai-bound commercial flight, there is only one thing to say: It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Actually, that was said, word for word, by President Obama – back in December. He was talking about alleged Nigerian underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who managed to board a Northwest flight bound for Detroit, despite intelligence agencies having long been aware of the threat he posed.

That “systemic failure” led to an immediate investigation of the no-fly-list system. That investigation led, four months later, to Faisal Shahzad seated in an upright position, cash-bought ticket in hand, and ready to take off after allegedly trying to set Times Square ablaze.

What did the December investigation produce? At the time, Bloomberg reported, “Obama directed intelligence agencies to collect all information in government files that could be related to the bombing attempt, the date it was collected and how it had been shared between different departments. He also requested the criteria used for placing people on terrorist watch lists.”

It sounds reassuringly presidential, doesn’t it? But somehow we’re still left with street vendors and New York City Police as our first line of defense. This administration is great with broad, visionary talk: the universal this, international that, and historic other. But the particulars are another story.  Whether it’s getting individual Gitmo detainees relocated, explaining health-care reform, or making sure that suspected terrorists don’t get on airplanes, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Janet Napolitano are hopelessly adrift. This is an administration so swept up in its own sense of destiny it’s simply not governing in the here and now.

After discovering that the federal no-fly list failed to keep Faisal Shahzad off a Dubai-bound commercial flight, there is only one thing to say: It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Actually, that was said, word for word, by President Obama – back in December. He was talking about alleged Nigerian underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who managed to board a Northwest flight bound for Detroit, despite intelligence agencies having long been aware of the threat he posed.

That “systemic failure” led to an immediate investigation of the no-fly-list system. That investigation led, four months later, to Faisal Shahzad seated in an upright position, cash-bought ticket in hand, and ready to take off after allegedly trying to set Times Square ablaze.

What did the December investigation produce? At the time, Bloomberg reported, “Obama directed intelligence agencies to collect all information in government files that could be related to the bombing attempt, the date it was collected and how it had been shared between different departments. He also requested the criteria used for placing people on terrorist watch lists.”

It sounds reassuringly presidential, doesn’t it? But somehow we’re still left with street vendors and New York City Police as our first line of defense. This administration is great with broad, visionary talk: the universal this, international that, and historic other. But the particulars are another story.  Whether it’s getting individual Gitmo detainees relocated, explaining health-care reform, or making sure that suspected terrorists don’t get on airplanes, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Janet Napolitano are hopelessly adrift. This is an administration so swept up in its own sense of destiny it’s simply not governing in the here and now.

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