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Gitmo closure looks unlikely.

Byline: Arab News

The clearest change Barack Obama promised the voters who gave him the White House last November was the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Why then has a Democrat-dominated Senate effectively rejected this mandate by refusing to grant funds that would transfer Gitmo detainees to the mainland United States? This has put the whole closure of the detention center into doubt.

The president has already dismayed some supporters by deciding to resume the military tribunals that he had immediately suspended on taking office. They were not mollified by White House assurances that those detainees brought before the military court would now enjoy a far higher level of legal representation. Obama had originally claimed the whole concept of the tribunals was flawed and now he was making a U-turn.

Republicans, still licking their wounds after their November defeats, have pontificated there is a big difference between campaign promises and the reality of power. This attempt to indict Obama for rashness and political naivety does not, however, wash. The legal and human rights mare's nest that is Gitmo was created by the Republican administration of George W. Bush. It is highly unlikely that Obama's advisers ever imagined that unraveling the Gitmo mess would be anything less than complex.

But their job has just been made more difficult still by the Senate vote to withhold $80 million to close Gitmo and transfer the 240 remaining detainees to the United States. Legislators take the view that having these individuals on US soil poses a threat to their constituents. This concern was heightened by FBI Director Robert Mueller telling Congress there would be a danger, even if the detainees were held in high security jails, prior to and after any subsequent conviction.

This is simply not good enough. Terrorists may be fanatical but they are not supermen. The US prison system already has many extremely dangerous individuals. If Gitmo detainees are found guilty after fair trials on the US mainland, they can be treated like any other high-risk criminals.

Indeed, the Senate's pusillanimous and self-interested decision is itself high risk. It means first of all that Gitmo could carry on beyond Obama's January deadline closure and so continue to drag the international reputation of the US through the mud, while continuing to give a propaganda gift to Al-Qaeda. It also means that instead of facing a proper trial and being punished for any crimes they are proven to have committed, detainees could be shuffled off in messy compromises with any US ally prepared to take them, (when their own countries will not) and perhaps mount some sort of gimcrack prosecution. One solution might be for the detainees to be arraigned at least on the basic charge of belonging to a terrorist organization before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The court's competence will certainly be challenged - its remit is to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. However, even if this option appealed, Obama could not use it, since the US does not recognize the ICC.

The world's biggest vote

The Guardian yesterday commented on Indian elections, saying in part:

Compared to what is happening in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, or indeed in a wider region not noted for democratic engagement, the elections in India are both to be saluted and celebrated. Saluted because the election shows a popular commitment to democracy. Celebrated because it produced the right result. The pundits, who to a man, predicted a weak and fractious coalition dependent on regional leaders, were stuffed. So was the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP, which lost a large amount of territory. Congress was returned not just with a strong mandate but a national one. This is important for the renewal of a 124-year-old party deemed to be in irreversible decline. If rural development emerged as the leitmotiv of the campaign, it is all the more surprising that India's new government should have yesterday named security and promoting Hindu-Muslim tolerance as its two priorities. It was, after all, the BJP which played the terror card with campaign ads showing its 81-year-old leader, L.K. Advani, pumping iron at the gym. And Singh's resistance to calls for an attack on Pakistan after the Mumbai bombings did not emerge as an election issue. The BJP turned off voters with its strident anti-Muslim rhetoric, and with the record of Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister, who stood by during the riots in his state, in which 1,000 Muslims were killed. It is important to promote Hindu-Muslim tolerance, although this is not the central issue.

But the part that a strong Indian government can play in regional security should not be underestimated. India's elites dislike being linked to a dysfunctional Pakistan, preferring to be ranked with China as a booming regional power. Delhi was horrified to think it would be included in Richard Holbrooke's Af-Pak regional remit, which in the end it was not. But none of that precludes the role that India could play in starting to defuse tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir.

Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 22, 2009
Words:853
Previous Article:Return of Muslims to Congress.
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