Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ongoing steps to end the indefinite war - Afghanistan and Guantanamo (updated)

While most of our attention is focused on the 2012 election and protests in the Middle East, the Obama administration continues to take some relatively unnoticed steps towards ending the "indefinite war."

Let's notice for a minute, shall we?

First of all came the announcement almost two weeks ago that the U.S. has transferred control of the Bagram prison to Afghanistan.
The U.S. military prison known as Bagram, a hated symbol of U.S. interference in Afghan affairs, was officially transferred to Afghan control Monday...

The prison handover is part of a larger transitioning of security responsibilities to Afghan forces — the linchpin of the U.S. plan to pull out its combat troops at the end of 2014.
Then last week the Pentagon announced that the "surge" troops have come home.
Nearly three years after it began, the surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is over.

In December 2009, on President Barack Obama's order, an additional 30,000 troops headed to the war-torn country hoping to stabilize it and quash what was then widely viewed as a Taliban resurgence despite just more than eight years of war.

Now, the last several hundred of the extra troops have left Afghanistan, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
The Obama administration has moved forward with both of these developments despite the ongoing violence in parts of Afghanistan. That signals the President's strong commitment to extricate our country from this longest war in our history, despite setbacks.

The final piece of news is not about Afghanistan - but Guantanamo. Before commenting on the news there, it strikes me as important to point out the intractability of so many of the messes Bush/Cheney left on President Obama's desk. That includes 2 wars, an economy in collapse, a debt spiraling out of control, and prisoners being held on an island U.S. military base. When it comes to all of these, not only has President Obama had to try to clean up the mess. He's had to do so with his hands tied by obstructionist fear-mongering Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress. Nowhere is that more true than in the case of the prisoners held at Guantanamo.

So lets take a minute to review the situation. When President Obama assumed office, there were approximately 240 prisoners held at Guantanamo. One of the first things the administration did was to review all of these cases. In January 2010, the task force assigned to do so released a report (pdf). It indicated that over half of the prisoners were eligible for release either to their home or another country. To date, 68 of those prisoners have been released. Of the remaining 167 detainees currently being held, 84 were identified for prosecution or ongoing detention due to their threat level - leaving 83 prisoners who are technically eligible for release. Leftists who continually criticize this administration's decision regarding the former spend almost no time talking about the challenges of dealing with the latter.

Since 2009, it has been the job of Ambassador Daniel Fried to negotiate the release of these detainees from Guantanamo. Some cannot go back to Yemen due to instability in that country. In some cases their home countries won't accept them. And in others, the detainees themselves fear death or torture if they return. Due to the sensitivity of working with other countries to accept them, the administration has kept their identities confidential. The news this week is that the decision to do so has now been reversed - at least for 55 of them where there is no court order requiring confidentiality.
The U.S. Government has for the first time issued a public list of Guantanamo prisoners cleared for release or transfer, but who remain at the island prison because of difficulties finding a country willing to take them or because of concerns about sending them to their home countries.
Its unclear to me what exactly prompted this change. But what seems likely is that diplomatic efforts have run their course. Releasing the names probably ups the ante that advocacy groups can now be engaged to apply pressure to potential home/host countries.

The ACLU issued a statement about this latest development.
Today’s release is a partial victory for transparency, and it should also be a spur to action. These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released...

It is well past time for our government to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men.
I say that its all well and good to support this move by the administration. But perhaps its time for organizations like the ACLU to get off the sidelines of simply complaining about what the administration has/hasn't done and start working toward some actual solutions.

UPDATE: As is so often the case with stories like this, its the truly batshit crazy wingers that are the one's noticing more than those on the left who are content to simply complain about the lack of progress endlessly.

And so...the lead story on the Brietbrats blog today is: Obama to release one third of Gitmo inmates. While I guess they missed that the administration is simply releasing their names but has been working on their actual release for three years now, here's an interesting line from their report.
A release or transfer of 55 inmates means Obama is moving out one third of the prisoners at Guantanamo. And while it doesn't represent a shutdown of the facility, it's certainly indicative of a move toward that end.


  1. Good Afternoon
    Really cannot imagine how much work it takes to gather all of the info you share on this blog. Nevertheless, I say thanks loudly!

    1. AMEN! Smartypants is my go-to blog for really in-depth analysis and information. You are the only person who seems to be covering this particular, very important topic. Thank you.

    2. Smilingl8dy and Tien Le,

      I really appreciate that you appreciate my writing about this story. To be honest - it does take more time and work than many of my other posts. I'm just glad that somebody is reading it!