By PETER WORTHINGTON
19th May 2009
One of the complaints -- observations, really -- about the early days of Barack Obama's presidency, is that the many declarations of intent have not been translated into action, or deeds.
No better example exists than the Guantanamo detention centre for suspect al-Qaida/Taliban terrorists.
A key plank in Obama's campaign to be president was his vow to close Gitmo -- something his predecessor, George Bush, also said he'd like to do, but had no other place that was convenient to send the bad guys.
What to do with the detainees seemed not a concern for Obama. He was going to close the facility come what may. To the huzzahs of the Democratic lib-left, soon after he took office he issued an executive order that within a year the Gitmo detention centre would be no more.
Already his intentions have hit a snag.
Democratic Congressman David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has rejected an $80 million request from the White House to begin moving some 240 detainees out of Guantanamo.
"Move them where?" is Obey's unasked question.
"So far, there is no concrete program. I'm not much interested in wasting my energy defending a theoretical program," he was quoted in U.S. News and World Report. "When the White House gets a plan together they are welcome to come back and talk to us about it."
Until then -- no cash.
So where will the detainees go? Even Obama acknowledges many at Gitmo are hardened terrorists and that it'd be folly to release them. Moving or dispersing them into prisons on the U.S. mainland seems improbable. "What congressman wants that in his backyard?" asks the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto.
On Fox News it was suggested that some island in the Hawaiian archipelago might make a suitable substitute for Guantanamo, but that'd be unlikely to thrill Hawaiians.
As it is, the Obama White House feels (correctly) that 17 Uighurs held at Gitmo should be released. They were rounded up in Afghanistan and lumped with al-Qaida suspects. Uighurs are Turkic-speaking, capitalistic Muslims, mostly located in the China's central Asian province of Xinjiang.
Usually Uighurs identify with Western values, and oppose China's repressive policies, and but supporting radical Islam.
Uighurs are not enemies of the U.S. or West, but of China. The dilemma for the U.S. is how to release them and not offend China which views all Uighurs as potential terrorists. In fact, most are nationalists who want some freedom Beijing's repression -- rather as Tibetans do.
Longtime Democratic senator from Hawaii, Dan Inouye, appropriations chairman in the Senate, agrees that his colleagues want to know the "precise plan" for closing Gitmo and moving detainees.
His committee is expected to come up with its version of a spending bill.
Ironically, Congress Daily reports that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has long campaigned to close Gitmo, also supports Congress' demand for more details before appropriating $80 million.
As it is, the White House says $50 million US would go to relocate detainees and military and support staff; $30 million is slated to go to the Justice Department to review all the Gitmo cases and determine who should face trial and who should be released -- as well as to pay compensation or litigation expenses for those who may be released.
None of that answers the big question: Where is, and what is, the Obama administration's plan for detainees when Gitmo is closed?
One suspects there is no plan, which provokes even more interesting questions. http://www.winnipegsun.com/comment/columnists/peter_worthington/2009/05/19/9495371-sun.html