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Obama: Gitmo won’t close on time

I guess this means I officially lose my bet with Ben Boychuk:

BEIJING — President Obama directly acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay will not close by the January deadline he set, but he said he hoped to still achieve that goal sometime next year.

Obama refused, however, to set a new deadline.

When Obama took office and immediately pledged to close Gitmo within a year, I was — to put it mildly — thrilled. I thought it was a bold declaration of values and intent. But boldly declaring your intent makes it pretty easy to fail.

For what it’s worth: I still think closing Gitmo is a net plus to America. In a war against lawless, stateless terrorists, it seemed to me we ceded some necessary moral high ground by trying to create a lawless, stateless base to contain them. It told the world that we didn’t really believe in our own civilization. In a battle that is just as much about ideas as it is about bullets and bombs, it was a crucial concession by the Bush Administration. Reversing that concession, it turns out, is more difficult than I thought it would be.

Are there 400,000 terrorists plotting the destruction of America?

Call me skeptical, but the Washington Post reports that’s how many people are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list.

During a 12-month period ended in March this year, for example, the U.S. intelligence community suggested on a daily basis that 1,600 people qualified for the list because they presented a “reasonable suspicion,” according to data provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the FBI in September and made public last week.

The ever-churning list is said to contain more than 400,000 unique names and over 1 million entries. The committee was told that over that same period, officials asked each day that 600 names be removed and 4,800 records be modified. Fewer than 5 percent of the people on the list are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Nine percent of those on the terrorism list, the FBI said, are also on the government’s “no fly” list.

One wants the government to be vigilant about protecting the country from terrorists, of course, but there’s a danger opposite to that of not investigating enough people and that’s investigating too many people. Leave aside, for the moment, the dangers to civil liberties; I’m willing to be a substantial portion — maybe even most — of the names on that list have nothing at all to do with terrorism. But they’re still consuming some of the FBI’s investigative resources. And time spent investigating the innocents might well cause the FBI to overlook the next Mohammed Atta.

In any case, it’s possible that the FBI will do everything as well as can be done — and that a terrorist will still slip through anyway. But the job might be easier if investigators weren’t flooded with so many (probably) false ledes.

The Wall Street Journal apparently thinks NOT torturing is illegal

Here’s the opening of their editorial:

Here’s a political thought experiment: Imagine that terrorists stage an attack on U.S. soil in the next four years. In the recriminations afterward, Administration officials are sued by families of the victims for having advised in legal memos that Guantanamo be closed and that interrogations of al Qaeda detainees be limited.

Should those officials be personally liable for the advice they gave President Obama?

Cute.

For the “thought experiment” to really work, though, NOT torturing terror suspects would have to be illegal under domestic and international law, as well as treaties the United States had signed long before the attack. In order to honor all those laws, the United States would be compelled to torture possible terrorists.

Oh. Wait. That’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?

Reading the rest of the editorial, and it’s clear the Wall Street Journal doesn’t get it. The editorial board apparently thinks that torture opponents are motivated by politics instead of principle and, oh yeah, the clear intent of the law against torture.