Does Buck McKeon Really Mean This?

By Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 10:40 AM

According to CNN, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, suggests not closing Guantanamo but expanding it:

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he would like to see more detainees brought to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, just returned from his first visit to the detention facility.

"I would like to see if we have detainees in other parts of the world that we can't seem to decide what to do with, that would be a place for them," McKeon told reporters during a news conference Tuesday.

. . .

"Our nation has invested millions of dollars in building state of the art humane and safe facilities to detain and prosecute the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo. It would be fiscally and morally irresponsible to shutter the facility and invest in new facilities in the United States," McKeon said.

McKeon said that the facility could handle hundreds more detainees from other facilities around the world.

"We can handle up to 800 there and rather that then spend millions or billions building new facilities and moving elsewhere when we've already spent so much and we already have such a great facility there."

I actually think this is an interesting idea--although, I suspect, for very different reasons than McKeon does. Indeed, I suspect that McKeon does not fully understand the implications of what he is saying. For all its opprobrium, Guantanamo is a unique facility. It is, after all, the only detention facility at which detainees enjoy the assistance of counsel and have their cases reviewed by federal judges, and the only one where they will receive additional due process benefits from the reportedly forthcoming executive order. Moving hundreds of detainees to Guantanamo means, in practical terms, granting them hugely more process than they receive elsewhere. I suspect this is not what McKeon has in mind, but it would be an inevitable consequence of his policy suggestion.

And I think it has considerable merit. There's something to be said for making Guantanamo--or Thomson, or some other site--the sole location for long-term counter-terrorism detention and committing ourselves to bringing all detainees from anywhere in the world whom we mean to hold for long periods of time to that facility and subjecting them there to a uniform and generous series of review processes. It makes no sense for the rules of detention to vary by geography. They should vary according to the purpose and duration of detention.