President's about-face on Guantanamo promising
President Bush last weekend told a German television reporter that every enemy combatant held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba deserves a day in court, and that he favors closing the controversial prison camp.
We hope the president gets his wish sooner rather than later.
Mr. Bush's statement is a clear reversal from his position, stated since the U.S. established the detention facility four years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He previously said the detainees are a threat to all Americans and have no rights to judicial due process. The U.S. established the prison in Cuba rather than on American soil specifically to circumvent the constitutional right of due process.
Mr. Bush's about-face also jibes with British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's public denouncement of the prison camp Wednesday.
"Not only would it in my personal opinion be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many - right or wrong - of injustice," Lord Goldsmith said. "There are certain principles on which there can be no compromise. Fair trial is one of those."
Mr. Bush's reversal is especially promising due to his reluctance to admit mistakes. Could it be a signal that he is willing to at least consider opinions that differ from his own?
Unfortunately, spokesmen at the Pentagon and State Department reacted to Lord Goldsmith's statement in typical Bush administration fashion.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said releasing the prisoners prematurely could result in future attacks. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said many of the detainees "have vowed to return to the fight."
The spokesmen act as if there is no alternative to the indefinite detention at Guantanamo and as if the United States has no prison or judicial system to deal with the detainees.
To date, the U.S. has charged only 10 of the hundreds of detainees. About 250 have been released without charges or explanations.
Nearly 500 detainees are still held at Guantanamo Bay. Mr. Bush can show true leadership if he orders them charged with a crime or released.
And he can increase his esteem in the eyes of the American people and the rest of the world by eliminating this cloud over the U.S. tradition of freedom, liberty and justice.
Admitting a mistake is not a sign of weakness. It shows strength and character we would admire in a president.