The XX Factor

Don’t Close Guantanamo

Great job, Obama! You’ve finally succeeded in getting somebody else to take some of those Guantanamo detainees off your hands. Your masterful diplomacy, although strangely ignored by more than 100 of our petitioned allies, has swayed the tiny island country of Palau to generously take a small group of the least dangerous detainees. Perhaps also helpful was the mere fee of $200 million we’re paying them, which-as the Wall Street Journal points out -is a practical $10,000 for every citizen of Palau. On the heels of that good news comes yet more: Saudi Arabia is willing to take almost 100 of the most dangerous detainees. Details of that negotiation still to come.

I can’t help but wonder if the same protesters who raged over America’s abuse of detainees in Guantanamo will express the same level of outrage for the inevitably much worse treatment to come from Saudi Prisons. As one distressed Yemini family member of a detainee worried, it is unlikely the prisoners will have access to the American judicial system (let alone the American media) in Saudi Arabia. As Haitham Al-Marwalah, 16, brother of detainee Mohammed al-Marwalah, was quoted in the Yemin Times , “… we think Saudi Arabia is not fair.”

But who ever said being fair had anything to do with it? Throughout the Guantanamo saga, I’ve struggled to understand why it’s worth closing one of the most scrutinized and secure prisons in the world-especially in the aftermath of such intense public scrutiny.  Symbolically it makes sense for Obama (I mean, Guantanamo is probably the only prison in the world that most people know by name), since once he closes it he’s “solved the problem” simply by removing it from public radar. But in terms of rationality and national security, it makes just about as much sense as shutting a school because of inappropriate behavior from a teacher. Fire the teacher-definitely. But close the school?

Being president is about making hard decisions that are best for the country-rather than what’s best for your personal image. I’m trying to be optimistic that Obama’s Guantanamo grandstanding isn’t indicitive of what motivates all his decision-making, but it’s not the easiest position to hold after watching him be willing to gamble away taxpayer dollars, detainee welfare, and national security interests this time around.