In his national security speech Thursday, President Obama addressed the controversy being stirred by conservatives over his decision to close Guantanamo. Obama forcefully said that he inherited a legal “mess” that has consumed his administration’s time and energy:
There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we do not have the luxury of starting from scratch. We are cleaning up something that is – quite simply – a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.
Yesterday, on the Brian and the Judge radio show, Karl Rove was angered by Obama’s critiques of the Bush administration, and he disputed the fact that the Bush administration had left a “mess” at Guantanamo. When conservative judge Andrew Napolitano noted that Obama “does have a constitutional mess on his hands,” Rove responded by saying that the “mess” is being caused by litigation from Attorney General Eric Holder — who is apparently “arguing against the government”:
ROVE: What’s ironic to me is that yesterday he said “this is a mess that was left to me by my predecessors.” No. This is a mess, to the extent that it is a mess, left to him by his friends and allies like Attorney General Eric Holder. Remember, there are DOJ appointees of this president who are in court arguing against the government’s position on these kind of things. I mean, it is his friends and allies and in some instances, his appointees who are in court arguing for an expansion of the rights of the terrorists and arguing for an end to the military commissions.
It’s unclear what cases Rove is referring to. There has been no litigation on the military commissions since Obama took office in January.
The lingering legal mess at Guantanamo, of course, was created by Bush. Obama now must determine “where to imprison and/or try the remaining approximately 250 Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have already been declared eligible for release.” This is complicated by the fact that multiple detainees have not been able to go to trial because of inadmissible evidence obtained through torture or hearsay. The international community is also encountering similar problems in repatriating Guantanamo detainees. Perhaps worst of all, Bush’s kangaroo courts have produced only three convictions.
As Obama noted Thursday, “the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place.”