Today’s New York Times features a cover story headlined, “Rulings of Improper Detentions as the Bush Era Closes.” In it, William Glaberson reports that a military panel just decided Guantánamo Bay detainee Haji Bismullah “should no longer be deemed an enemy combatant.” Bismullah will therefore be returned to his native Afghanistan.
The decision was part of a pattern that has emerged in the closing chapter of the administration. In the last three months, at least 24 detainees have been declared improperly held by courts or a tribunal – or nearly 10 percent of the population at the detention camp in GuantánamoBay, Cuba, where about 245 men remain.
An emerging pattern, huh? If some sinister plot to hold innocents indefinitely is just coming to light, how does one explain the hundreds of Guantánamo detainees that have been released from the detention facility over the past seven years? If you’re William Glaberson — or one of the thousands of Americans who jabber on about the need to close down Gitmo – you don’t. Facts are toxic.
The problem with the “close Guantánamo Bay” argument is that its adherents have forgotten exactly why Guantánamo Bay needs to be closed. “No day in court for detainees,” you say? It turns out that between military panels and federal court hearings, Guantánamo Bay now produces enough courtroom drama to warrant a reality show on Court TV.
“Well, these are show trials and the fix is already in,” some argue. But as Bismullah and the other 23 recent examples demonstrate, detainees are walking. Former detainee Salim Hamdan was Osama bin Laden’s driver. He is now a free man.
People want to close down Gitmo because it’s a symbol of all that is hated about George W. Bush. But what happens when a despised symbol does double duty as a critical national security institution?
If the New York Times was a different kind of paper it could have just as easily ran a different — more important — front-page story today. Under the headline “9/11 Plotters in Custody as the Bush Era Closes,” you might have read about Ramzi Binalshibh, who this morning told a Guantánamo war crimes court, “We did what we did; we’re proud of Sept. 11.”
He’s proud. But Americans are somehow ashamed of the system that put him behind bars and has him making his case to military judges in an open and unbiased fashion you’d find nowhere else in the world.