When I heard yesterday that the Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wanted to inject some “sanity” into the debate over the Guantanamo debate, it briefly seemed like a welcome change of pace.
Alas, the Texas Republican’s approach to “sanity” is not what I’d hoped it would be.
“Once again the President is releasing terrorists into the world with little regard to the likelihood that they will re-enter the fight, or for the risk to our forces already in harm’s way,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement.While the administration “may claim that safeguards are in place or that the track record of re-engagement is negligible; but those of us who read intelligence reports regularly have reason to be skeptical,” according to Thornberry, who previously chaired the panel’s emerging threats subcommittee and served on the House Intelligence Committee.“Action is needed to return sanity to this process,” he said.
Thornberry’s hope is that Congress will approve even more restrictions on President Obama’s ability to transfer prisoners, which in turn would leave the controversial detention facility open indefinitely.
To be sure, we could “return sanity” to the policy debate about the prison, but the congressman’s approach won’t get us there any faster.
Look, it’s not that complicated. The White House and military leaders want to close the prison, save some money, and improve the nation’s global reputation. U.S. officials could do exactly what we’ve always done – try terrorists suspects, convict them, and lock them up for the rest of their lives.
But congressional Republicans, and a few too many congressional Democrats afraid of mindless attack ads, have said that won’t do. Guantanamo must remain open, no matter the costs, because, well, just because. It apparently has something to do with conservative fears that the prisoners have super powers or something.
To be sure, it may seem ridiculous to see Obama administration officials looking around the globe to find countries that will take these detainees, but these officials haven’t been left with much of a choice – they can’t bring the prisoners to American prisons, since Congress won’t let them, and they can’t leave the prisoners in Cuba without undermining our foreign policy goals.
If lawmakers want to “return sanity” to the system, that’s a great idea. Congress can start by untying the bureaucratic constraints on the president’s hands. Regrettably, Thornberry and some of his like-minded allies in the Senate appear eager to do the opposite.