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Friday, October 10, 2008

The Guantanamo Catch-22

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, stamped with an alarming headline, “The Terrorists Next Door” only serves to highlight the troubling nature of the president’s “War on Terror.” Conservatives frame the issues in black and white, with Bush using his “wartime powers” to capture dangerous “terrorists.” The reality however, is much more nuanced.

In today’s piece, the Journal’s editorial board condemns an order by District Judge Ricardo Urbina that the government release 17 Uighurs from Guantanamo’s detention camp. While everyone acknowledges that these detainees pose no threat to the United States, and probably never should’ve been detained in the first place, the president and his allies argue that Judge Urbina’s decision sets a dangerous precedent that will lead to the release of vicious terrorists into the United States.

In truth, it is President Bush that has set a dangerous precedent by detaining suspects, often on flimsy evidence of terrorist ties, shipping them half-way around the world and labeling them “enemy combatants.” The president has created a legal black-hole that he cannot get himself out of, and the courts are left to clean up the mess.

In this case, he detained 17 innocent Uighurs and kept them imprisoned for over six years. Now that the United States government has labeled them as potential terrorists, most nations are loath to take them in, leaving these men with no place to go. So they sit in a sort of detainee purgatory at Guantanamo. Judge Ricardo simply said that these men cannot be forced to pay the price for the government’s mistakes. If it cannot find a country to accept these men, then the United States, being the country that put them in this position, must then take them.

Conservative commentators like those who make up the Journal’s editorial board, like to chastise the “activist” judiciary for over-stepping their role. But, what options do the courts have? The president is the one who overstepped his authority by inventing classifications and procedures to deal with so-called “enemy combatants” with no safe-guards to protect the innocent.

These Uighur detainees were cleared for release years ago, but have remained imprisoned because of the administration’s lack of foresight. The legal issues surrounding Guantanamo are far from black and white. We see a depressing shade of gray.

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