Let’s Pretend

Might the terrorists of Guantánamo Bay be coming to a town near you?

Pentagon officials have inspected several military bases in the United States that could potentially replace the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, if President-elect Barack Obama fulfills his pledge to close the camp there. The sites visited included Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., military sources said.

This is frowned upon in pop psychology circles as, “the geographic cure.” “You can’t run away from your problems,” they say. “Your problems will just come running after you.”

But maybe Obama can run away from his Guantánamo problem. If the problem is cosmetic, then a change of scenery might do the trick. To be sure, keeping enemy combatants at Guantánamo does create a real headache in terms of balancing military criminal justice, the civilian legal system, and national security. But the yes-we-canners were never really interested in all the legal incidentals. They just object to the symbolic downer of Guantánamo Bay: the fictionally flushed Qur’an, the myth of innocents being kept in solitary confinement, etc.

The point, for the Left, is not to get bogged down in national and international law, but to erase the impression of ugliness. Don’t believe me? Take Nicholas Kristof’s proposed solution to Guantanamo Bay:

We should not only close the Guantánamo prison but also turn it into an international center for research on tropical diseases that afflict poor countries. It could thus become an example of multilateral humanitarianism.

Sure, it could. At least until Kristof starts complaining about America the bacterial imperialist housing diseases in poor, tiny Cuba.  And then the next president will promise to move the disease center onto American soil.

Because it’s all about pretending we can continue to be the most powerful country in the world while also being the biggest pushovers in history. It’s about pretending to fight terrorism without taking the gloves off. Iraq? Barack Obama pretends he’s ending the war while extending it. Tough interrogation? Barack Obama pretends he’s ending it while drafting loopholes for “extraordinary” situations. Wiretapping? Barack Obama’s A.G. pick Eric Holder pretends to denounce it while keeping it as part of the arsenal. Guantánamo Bay? Barack Obama will move it, and pretend it disappeared.

As it turns out, moving the detention facility to a military base in the U.S. doesn’t erase legal complications, but probably compounds them. G.O.P. officials are opposed to the idea, as it could go some distance in giving detainees access to American civilian courts. But ultimately, for the Obama administration to make good on its promise, it’s going to have to gloss over the inevitable legal complexities and pretend that we’ve moved on.