Detention & Guantanamo

Does Marc Thiessen Know What He's Suggesting?

By Benjamin Wittes
Monday, February 21, 2011, 11:24 PM

In a column today in the Washington Post, Marc Thiessen suggests that it's time for Obama to revitalize Guantanamo:

In fact, Obama administration is quietly beginning to ramp up operations at Guantanamo. While White House officials continue to assert that the president is committed to closing the facility, their actions speak otherwise. President Obama barely put up a fight when the outgoing Democratic Congress passed legislation barring the transfer of any detainees from Guantanamo to the United States. Then in January, the administration put out word that Obama would soon lift the ban he had imposed two years ago on new military commission trials - allowing military prosecutors to finally begin bringing new cases against terrorists held at Guantanamo. With military commissions resuming, it makes sense for the administration to go all in . . . and resume bringing high-value terrorists to Guantanamo for interrogation as well.

Later in the column, Thiessen says the following:

The CIA already has a presence at the base and a state-of-the-art facility for housing high-value detainees such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This facility could easily accommodate fresh captures ready for quick exploitation.
The only reason not to bring terrorists to Guantanamo is to maintain the fiction that the administration is closing the facility.

As I explained in this post, I actually agree with Thiessen that it's time for Obama to embrace Guantanamo--albeit for different reasons than he talks about in this column. But I wonder if he truly understands the magnitude of the suggestion he is making here. Like House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon a few weeks ago, Thiessen seems to think Guantanamo is simply surplus detention space. It's not. It's surplus detention space with habeas. Bringing people there thus involves a decision to grant them a measure of judicial review that they don't get anywhere else. I think this is a good idea for certain categories of long-term detainees, including certainly the high-value detainees with which he is concerned here. But it would be a fateful and complicated step, not simply--as Thiessen suggests--a climb-down for the administration, but also an affirmative decision to submit to a degree of judicial scrutiny above and beyond what is strictly speaking necessary under current law. Does Thiessen really want that? And for whom?