McCain Doesn’t Understand McCain’s Position on Guantanamo

mccainshow.jpgOur guest blogger is Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling affirming the Guantanamo detainees’ constitutional right to habeas corpus further narrowed the legal distinction between holding them in Cuba and in the United States. The Bush administration picked Guantanamo precisely because it believed the American military base on the eastern tip of Cuba was beyond the reach of any court. With that notion rightly put to rest, supporters of closing Guantanamo like John McCain should be encouraged, as there is now much less of an argument against moving some of the detainees to the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, as he proposes.

That’s why I find his reaction to the Boumediene decision so odd. McCain unleashed a full broadside at the court the day after the ruling, calling it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country… Our first obligation is the safety and security of this nation, and the men and women who defend it. This decision will harm our ability to do that.”

At issue in Boumediene is whether habeas rights extended to Guantanamo. There has never been any doubt that any individual in the United States possesses habeas rights. McCain is on the record saying, as president, he “would immediately close Guantanamo Bay, [and] move all the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth.” That action would have exactly the same effect as the Court’s decision in Boumediene.

McCain goes on to claim that his plan to close Guantanamo the Supreme Court’s ruling is “going to have the courts flooded with so-called, quote, Habeas Corpus suits against the government, whether it be about the diet, whether it be about the reading material.” This would be silly if it wasn’t so tragic. Garden variety habeas petitions from inmates in American prisons may more often deal with diet than detention, but the detainees at Guantanamo are not asking for better food, many believe that they are wrongly imprisoned and are contesting the lawfulness of their confinement.

Let’s look at the facts of the named plaintiff in the case, Lakhdar Boumediene. Boumediene is a Bosnia citizen of Algerian descent who was arrested in October 2001 in Bosnia by Bosnian officials after American intelligence analysts in Bosnia feared that Boumediene and five other Algerian-Bosnians were part of a plot to attack American targets there. After four months in detention, the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that there was no evidence to continue to hold the six men and ordered their release in January 2002. American officials immediately took custody the six and shipped them off to Guantanamo. That was more than six years ago.

Fixing the mess at Guantanamo is going to be enormously difficult. The Bush administration has made so many catastrophic mistakes that there are no good or easy solutions. If John McCain doesn’t understand the implications of his proposal to close the prison, how can we trust him to make the right call on the really hard questions that are sure to arise in any genuine effort to close Guantanamo?