Guantanamo: A 'False Choice Between Our Safety and Our Ideals'?

The newspapers bring to us news that Obama has ordered the shutdown of Guantanamo within a year:

Obama said that by ordering the shutdown of the Cuban prison within a year, he hoped to send a message that the U.S. would pursue the struggle against violence and terrorism vigilantly, effectively and "in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals."

He said his administration would not "continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals," an express slap at policies pursued by his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.

"It is precisely our ideals which give us the strength and moral high ground to deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorism organizations around the world," Obama said.

I suggest that this is a strange combination of hubris (he can find a way out of this Gordian knot that no one before him could) and fatuity (the notion that there exists some sort of international goodwill which can be tapped to help us repatriate the prisoners and see that they are imprisoned humanely on the soil of their native lands). Then there's the idea that illegal combatants can either be released before the end of hostilities or tried as criminals in our courts.

But for the moment I'll desist from my skepticism and note the difficulty of what he says he's undertaken and offer the hope that this plan will work.

The facility at Guantanamo has been a rallying cry for every anti-American and anti-Bush sentiment since its creation. The inimitable Mark Steyn  punctured the ludicrous tales of sweltering heat, torture, and Koran desecration to all but the most obdurate denier of reality. Still, we have about 250 detainees who remain  there and -- however wrongly it was reached -- the perception that there is some manifest unfairness in holding men caught on the battlefield in irregular fighting groups and warehousing them in Guantanamo until the end of hostilities.

Thursday's announcement --though  it has a long deadline -- may assuage the feelings of those who hold these views. (The media certainly seems willing to give him the time he needs, switching gears to remind us that closing the prison creates difficult problems and cannot be done overnight.)

It may be that the enemy has been so crushed by the surge and our anti-terrorism efforts elsewhere that closing Guantanamo and "sending enemy combatants to a facility where they will immediately be able to lawyer up" will have no effect on our security. And the administration could then dream up some criminal trial proceeding which would authorize trying the accused without eyewitnesses or the turning over of any classified exculpatory evidence in the prosecution's possession.