Most of the time when I listen to candidates making campaign promises, I laugh. Those promises often seem like pipe dreams. When then-Senator Obama promised that, as President, he would inspire political leaders to unite on both sides of the aisle, I laughed so hard I cried. When he promised he could, and would, close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, I stopped to consider the possibility that he might keep that promise.
This weekend, I was surprised to find myself watching cable news and seeing both Democrat and Republican arguments against President Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
On the left side of the aisle, politicians seemed to be saying, “Thank you, Mr. President, but we would prefer not to write you a very large check until you can show us a concrete plan as to what you mean to do with the prisoners being held at Gitmo.” On the right, the politicians offer some version of the question, “What do you intend to do with the detainees, Mr. President? My constituents don’t want them in our backyard.”
The President kept his promise – both sides of Congress were fighting on the same side of the issue.
In the President’s sometimes utopian worldview, he seems to think closing the prison will enhance the lives of the Guantanamo prisoners. From what I understand from people who have access to the prison at Guantanamo, the President is wrong.
In most cases, the detainees have participated in activities perceived as war crimes against American soldiers, citizens or allies. Even as some folks in this nation have demanded civil rights for the detainees and labeled the prison at Guantanamo the “black eye” of the American military prison system, they seem to have forgotten about the fact that the people we are talking about are war criminals.
I have had the uncommon privilege to speak with people who live and work on the base at Guantanamo. While the prison itself is remotely located and highly secure, it is common knowledge on base that, for the most part, the individuals housed there are not nice people. I heard a story about a Guantanamo detainee who recently stabbed a guard in the eye with a sharpened comb. Without exception, the prisoners at Guantanamo have been detained for a reason.
You can’t go anywhere in this country without hearing the words “prison overcrowding.” Quite simply, this country has too many criminals, and not enough prison cells or guards. It makes no sense to close a prison – ANY prison – in light of that fact.
The President has suggested the detainees should be held in stateside “super-max” facilities. His theory seems to be based on the idea that super-max security is equal to military prison security. I have my doubts.
I don’t imagine many people in these parts are actually aware of what it takes to get on to – or off of – the military base at Guantanamo Bay – let alone within a linear mile of the prison. From my own experience, and from the experiences of people I know who have been on the base, I can only imagine it would be easier to get a personal audience with the Pope.
Regular prisoners housed in super-max facilities are there because of poor decision-making abilities, and because their moral compasses don’t exactly point due north. With their skewed moral compasses, prisoners tend to adopt their own versions of justice and their own levels of “evil.” I can’t imagine it would be a good idea to toss terror suspects – particularly those that are recognizable by their dress and demeanor, and are willing to try to kill others with any kind of sharpened implement they can find – into that kind of powder keg. It wouldn’t be safe for anyone.
Basic human safety to one side, I also understand because of their specific, religious dietary needs, the Guantanamo prison has a chef on staff who knows how to prepare the food to cater to those needs. Making such a chef available at every stateside prison that might be asked to house detainees will be a hard sell to the American public. As a general rule, Americans seem to think the only appropriate uses for money within the prison system are more guards, more walls and more bars – not private chefs.
I generally hesitate to criticize presidential decisions. I operate under the assumption that the Commander in Chief knows more than I do. In this particular case, I wonder if my assumption is correct. I think it’s closer to the truth to say that President Obama made a promise he had no idea how to keep, without realizing that keeping his promise was a bad idea.
On the upside, he did manage to get both parties united on an idea. I guess some of his promises weren’t pipe dreams after all.