Deadline missed, but Guantanamo must close

A prisoner is escorted at the U.S. prison in Gantanamo Bay, Cuba. (BRENNAN LINSLEY / Associated Press, File)


President Obama made the right decision to put accused 9/11 terrorists on trial in federal court. Now he must show the same fortitude in pushing for a way to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.
With the passing on Friday of the president’s self-imposed deadline to close Guantanamo, the clock is running in overtime on Obama’s pledge of one year ago.
Nearly 200 detainees — more than half of them already approved to be sent home — are awaiting a measure of justice long-delayed.
For the American people, closing Guantanamo represents a symbolic gesture as well as a strategic step. Shutting the prison will signal to the rest of the world that this nation still holds dear its core values of democracy and freedom. At the same time, closing Guantanamo deprives al-Qaeda and other terrorist conspirators of a potent recruiting tool.
That’s why rights activists, as well as military leaders, legal and security experts, and former members of Congress are urging the president to chart a course for the detainees that comports with constitutional principles.
Detainees who may be guilty of terrorist acts should be tried as swiftly as possible in the federal courts. That’s the legal fate facing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four codefendants.
Not only will those trials assure that justice is done, but they also represent the best means to repair America’s global image as a nation of laws.
America’s federal courts have proven themselves capable of handling these types of cases and, where necessary, safeguarding secret information critical to national security.
There’s really no substitute for that approach.
The alternative of trying detainees before the discredited system of military tribunals fashioned by the previous administration won’t repair U.S. prestige, nor will that route secure a just outcome for defendants in these cases.
So, it’s unfortunate that a presidential task force last week recommended that as many as one-quarter of the detainees at Guantanamo remain jailed without charge indefinitely. The commission wrongly argues that prosecuting the men would be too difficult, while it’s also too risky to release them.
The task force’s cautious recommendation isn’t surprising in the wake of the Christmas attempt by the so-called Nigerian “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a plane bound for Detroit after originating in Amsterdam.
Authorities say the Abdulmutallab plot was hatched in Yemen, a fact that also has snarled plans to return the many detainees who have Yemeni roots.
The Yemeni terror threat must be addressed, but the inevitable renewed attempts to attack U.S. targets cannot be allowed to dissuade the president from doing the right thing on Guantanamo.
Since the first terror suspects were sent to Guantanamo in 2002, their harsh treatment has been an affront to this nation's concept of fair play under the law. It’s time to shut it down.