The Blog

"To Retain and Detain"

11:42 PM, Feb 5, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The president is scheduled to meet today with the families of 9/11 victims to explain his decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. According to the Post, among those who will be in attendance are family members opposed to the decision. Also quoted in the story is Retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, the commanding officer on board the USS Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in October of 2000. He's been a vocal critic of Obama's order closing the facility, accusing the president of failing to take into account the effect his decision would have on the families of al Qaeda's victims. The Post quotes one unnamed activist dramatically warning that the event may produce "fireworks."

Perhaps Lippold and the others shouldn't be too concerned. The Post also quotes White House counsel Greg Craig discussing the possible impact of the current review on the detainees now being held at Gitmo:

[Craig] said the president has demanded "a thorough factual review for each detainee so that the decision that is made -- whether to transfer him or whether to release this person or whether to prosecute this person or whether to retain and detain this person for the future -- [is] based on an understanding of the facts and the evidence."

Is retain and detain an option? It sounds as though Craig is struggling with the "false choice" between our principles and our security. Unless this is a slip of the tongue, and let's suppose that the White House counsel has chosen his words carefully, the Obama administration seems to be toying with the idea that some prisoners may need to be detained indefinitely and without trial because they can't be transferred, can't be released, and can't be prosecuted with any confidence that they'll be convicted. Instead the government will retain and detain.

Obama's supporters must be horrified that the White House would even entertain the possibility of violating the due process rights of foreign terrorists captured on the battlefield, but it's hard to read Craig's statement any other way.