The Obama administration took a key step today as the president tries to keep a pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by next January while not losing his party's support.
The Justice Department said that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, one of 240 remaining detainees at Guantanamo, was transferred to New York today to stand trial for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed more than 200 people, including 12 Americans.
UPDATE: Ghailani, who would be the first Guantanamo inmate to be tried in a US civilian court, pleaded not guilty this afternoon in US District Court in Manhattan.
Republicans who oppose closing Guantanamo and bringing any detainees to US soil immediately protested.
“Our priority must be to keep America safe, and it defies logic to put the rights of some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world before the safety of Americans by bringing them onto American soil. Terrorists spend years trying to sneak inside our borders, and bringing them here ourselves is utterly counter intuitive,” Representative Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said in a statement.
Besides putting some of the 240 detainees on trial in federal civilian courts then house them in high-security US prisons, Obama also plans to send detainees to other countries when that is possible and does not pose a security risk, plans to use a revised form of military tribunals for those charged with violating the rules of war, and to release those who have been ordered released by the courts.
He has also proposed indefinite detention for those who the government does not have enough usable evidence against, but who the administration believes are too dangerous to release. Civil liberties groups and some Democrats have loudly criticized that plan.
Democrats are holding a hearing on Capitol Hill today on the proposal. Human Rights First's CEO, Elisa Massimino, is urging lawmakers to reject it.
“The use of arbitrary and unlimited detention by the Bush administration has done considerable damage to America’s efforts to defeat terrorists because it has served as a powerfully effective recruiting advertisement for Al Qaeda and others. It has strengthened the hand of terrorists – rather than isolating and delegitimizing them – in the political struggle for hearts and minds,” Massimino said, according to her prepared testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights. “It has undermined critical cooperation with our allies on intelligence and detention. It has done considerable damage to the reputation of the United States, undermining its ability to lead other countries and international opinion.”
Massimino also testified that any attempt to revise the military commissions and continue to detain Guantánamo prisoners without trial would be counterproductive and undermine the Obama's efforts to “enlist the power of our fundamental values.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.