Rupert Cornwell: Not a U-turn, he's just making the best of a bad job

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

Barack Obama's decision to revive the system of military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay will inevitably, and correctly, be branded a U-turn, that most unwelcome reproach for any politician. In fact, he is probably making the best of a very bad job.

In theory, there is no reason why the few people who will face the tribunals should not be tried by civilian courts on the US mainland, where they would enjoy greater legal safeguards. The civil system, after all, managed to deal with Zacharias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker of 9/11.

Both as candidate and President, Mr Obama has described the military tribunal system as deeply flawed. In reality, any move by the Obama administration to move the prisoners into the regular court system would almost certainly unleash a public and Congressional storm that could delay the process even longer.

The White House has concluded that the most practical solution is to go ahead with revamped tribunals, with additional safeguards for defendants, including a ban on all evidence obtained through harsh interrogation techniques.

The essence now is speed. As the President has pointed out repeatedly, no Guantanamo inmate has yet been convicted of anything, even though some have been held for six years or more. Many of the 241 who remain may well be innocent of any offence. This is a shocking indictment of American justice, in any guise. More than once, the Supreme Court has indicated its disapproval of such inordinate delays, and of the legal limbo – outside the purview of the Geneva Conventions – in which the detainees are trapped.

But an obvious deadline is available. The President is committed to closing the prison by January. That should allow sufficient time for the tribunals to get started.

Fewer than 20 people are likely to face them, including Sheikh Khalid Mohammed and others accused of organising the 9/11 attacks. If there is any further delay, and Guantanamo Bay is shut on schedule, there would be no alternative to moving the defendants on to the mainland and into US domestic courts, exactly the outcome the administration wishes to avoid.

With Guantanamo closed, the rest of the 241 detainees, most of them very small fry, could be transferred to other countries, or simply released. A line would finally be drawn under a saga that has brought shame, rather than additional security, to America.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

£350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Day In a Page

Read Next
There are now half a million self-service checkouts in operation across Britain's leading supermarkets  

What's the point of paying for service if you then have to do the work yourself?

Jane Merrick
 

Our limited generosity is being wasted on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Tom Peck
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment