There is a Caribbean legend that when Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the new world, came ashore at what he that day called Puerto Grande (now Guantánamo Bay, Cuba), he was less-than-impressed. No gold was to be found, nor gems – not even fresh water. He left the next day mumbling something in Italian that comes down to us more than 500 years later loosely translated as “this place sucks.”
A brass plaque marks the spot, though not the actual language of the moment.
This arid and unwelcoming spot of eroding land is these days the focus of national – even international – attention as the Obama administration takes over in Washington. Among the first actions taken by our new president has been a move toward fulfilling a promise made all along the recent campaign trail – to close GITMO “within a year.” This order also includes halting all trials currently under way at the facility, where as many as 800 “detainees” in the war against Islamist terror are being held.
Taking a page from the great explorer’s phrase book I might add: “This decision sucks.”
Though any potential relocation of those held at GITMO is at least a year away, the suspension of all trials should send chills throughout a country still basking in the warmth of the recent inauguration. Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, reminds us: "When you take the case of Omar Khadr, whose trial was halted, there is a great deal of evidence that he is not only guilty of jihad activities but his family also has been deeply involved with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida for years."
And Khadr is just one of many dangerous people who may be emboldened by the new directive.
I believe we are on our way – a slippery slope of sorts - to seeing the very idea of a “war on terror” morph into something more benign. First it may become a Truman-like “police action” against bad guys. But what I fear most is the potential for a dangerous, but vital, conflict to be eventually redefined as a moral-equivalency “game” of misunderstanding between shirts and skins.
One top House Democrat, John Murtha of Pennsylvania – a man who has been a vocal critic of most aspects of the war we have been fighting since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – is so pleased with Mr. Obama’s action that he would apparently welcome the GITMO prisoners to a facility in his district. But he notes, with a “darn-it-all-to-heck” dismissal, that there are no maximum-security facilities in his area. So he will be spared “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) letters from sane constituents.