On Jan. 22, President Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay by 2010, proving to the American public once more that he is an agent of Change (note the capital "C") and "claiming the moral high ground" for our nation once again.
While this was one of the more politically astute moves Obama might have made, it seems like it might have been shortsighted or at least potentially dangerous for the United States. It brought to the forefront the old debate over the legitimacy of sacrificing ideals for defense.
The problem is simple: while torture and perpetual incarceration are terrible and inhumane, they are nevertheless effective techniques of war. The prospect of torture can often be considered at least a moderate deterrent (I'd hate to meet someone who didn't see torture so) against violent action, while indefinite jail time essentially removes a combatant from the field of battle for, say, the rest of eternity. A fact often overlooked by critics of such practices is that, in order to prosecute a war effectively, information is needed. Torture is a way to get that information.
On the other side, of course, stands America. Hypothetically, our nation is one of peace and opportunity, a place where people cannot be subjected to torture or held without trial. These practices countermand the very soul of America, the bedrock on which everything else is built. Can we give up these ideals in order to protect ourselves? There are many who say yes, we can, it's necessary. Lincoln suspended the Constitution to win the Civil War, and the United States survived, after all.
But now in America, 2009, can we as a nation stand by and give up everything we supposedly stand for in order to protect ourselves from the terrorists? No, we can't. This is the answer that's echoed far and wide since November when we elected a president who promised to change things. We cannot stand idly by.
I agree. The closing of Guantanamo Bay will no doubt stand as a symbol of America's commitment to our own way of life. Inside that commitment is a cost that many probably haven't considered. Without torture, information is harder to find. Without the suspension of habeas corpus, there are going to be prisoners released who may or may not still be a threat to America.
We won't be as safe. I'm fine with that, and you're going to have to be as well. Welcome to the new United States.