Be Careful What You Wish For

President Bush has announced the existence of CIA “secret prisons” and the transfer of their former inmates to Gitmo, stating that the intelligence used in the interrogations that took place in those prisons have been invaluable towards stopping further terrorist attacks.

Bush said that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is among 14 high-level detainees to be transferred from CIA to Pentagon custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where, with congressional approval of new military tribunals, they would face trial.

Besides Mohammed, those who would face tribunals include Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaydah and other suspects held in connection with the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and the bombing attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Bush announced that the transferred detainees will get rights under the Geneva Convention once transferred to Pentagon custody.

Bush said Wednesday he would ask Congress for explicit rules so U.S. personnel are protected from abuse charges as they fight the war on terror.

Legally, the President had to do something since the Supreme Court essentially forced Bush to come up with a new method for dealing with terrorist suspects. Politically, this forces the Democrats in Congress to come down either for or against some kind of military tribunals for terrorist detainees. By moving some of the most high-level terrorists in US custody into Gitmo, the President is forcing Congress to take those issues seriously. The Democrats have been preening for the left in demanding “fair treatment” of these brutal terrorists — despite the fact that such positions are likely to further cement the image of the Democratic Party as the party of weakness on national security issues.

It’s also likely that many of these suspects have been exhausted as sources of intelligence at this point anyway, so there’s no harm to national security by letting them be shipped the Cuba. At this point, the best thing for them is to either be locked up forever and the key melted into slag or for them to be executed. By using them as pawns in a political game, Bush is ensuring that Congress can’t procrastinate on setting up legal standards for the conduct of terrorism trials at Gitmo — which will be a critical issue as some of the detainees are ready for trial.

The Democrats have been asking for Bush to make concessions on these issues — but I don’t think they really wanted anything to change. By braying on about human rights they could appeal to the left, but they haven’t had to make any actual decisions about how these tribunals should be carried out. Now they have to make those difficult choices, and with the ascendancy of the left in Democratic politics, they have to balance the demands of the far left with the need to show that they’re not weak on terrorism. That will be an exceedingly difficult balance for them to pull off.

UPDATE: Mario Loyola at The Corner comes to similar conclusions. Bush knew he needed some significant leverage to get Congress to do something — and this leverage is about as significant as it comes…

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