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McCain: Close Guantanamo?

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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April 30, 2007

Fox News Sunday launched its “Choosing the President” series yesterday in an exclusive interview with Arizona Senator John McCain. Asked how he would “fight the war on terror differently,” McCain affirmatively stated that he would “probably announce the closing of Guantanamo Bay.”Now, this raises some interesting questions. First, by all accounts, Senator McCain has positioned himself as the heir to the current administration on Iraq and Bushian foreign policy generally, and closing Gitmo (though welcome!), does not quite comport with where he’s at in the polls and policy debates.Second, does he have an alternative? When the ACLU and our allies call on the president to “close Gitmo,” we’re obviously not saying that the entire detainee population should be dropped off at the Miami (or Riyadh) bus station with a coach ticket and a fond farewell.Quite the contrary: the mantra is “charge or release.”In other words, confer due process; ensure a proper system for separating the truly bad from the tragically unfortunate; and make sure the threat posed by the bad guys is actually neutralized, though a system recognized worldwide as a fair, impartial and independent of unchecked executive meddling.But, when it comes to the specific question of habeas rights, closing Guantanamo Bay would require one of two things. If we move the detainees to official American soil, it’s way more likely that a judge would find a constitutional right to file a habeas petition. But, if we move them to some other military detention facility, we will have done nothing to mitigate the actual legal limbo problem that currently plagues the Gitmo set-up. Senator McCain, with all respect, give us the straight talk. We love it.

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