Commentary Magazine


Don’t Return Detainees to the Battlefield

Last week, I argued the need for internationally recognized rules for the handling of terrorist suspects so as to avoid cases such as the one in Britain where one of al-Qaeda’s leading clerics in Europe may wind up being released after an EU court ruled he could not be deported to his home country, Jordan. Now comes another bit of news that underlines the need for some kind of solution for handling terrorists:

It seems the Obama administration wants to repatriate back to their home countries approximately 50 foreign detainees being held at the main U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan, prior to handing it over to Afghan authorities who have little interest in, or capability of, holding these dangerous men. The problem is that many of the detainees are Pakistani or Yemeni, and there is scant cause to think either country will hold them securely. Yemen, which appears increasingly to be ungoverned, simply lacks the capability to hold dangerous detainees; Pakistan, or at least elements of its army and intelligence service, may be in collusion with them.

 So what to do? The obvious answer is to send them to Guantanamo, which was set up for precisely this purpose. But the Obama administration refuses to do so. Although it has not managed to close Gitmo, it will not send fresh detainees there either. That creates a difficult dilemma in dealing with these terrorists who are likely to return to the battlefield if released.

It would make a lot of sense to convene a new Geneva Convention so that the civilized nations of the world can agree on a body of law for dealing with them. That, of course, would take a while even under the best of circumstances. In the meantime, the administration needs to overcome its ideological predisposition against Gitmo and do what’s best for American security.

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