January 2012 marks the 10th melancholy anniversary of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; if polling is correct, it will also mark the end of Newt Gingrich’s presidential ambitions, as the immense, gas-filled Hindenburg of his ego approaches its Lakehurst in South Carolina.
The two intersect in remarkable fashion.
Gingrich was key to igniting the firestorm of criticism that prevented the public release of 17 Uighur captives from Guantanamo to Germany and the United States in early 2009.
Uighurs were considered to be the cutest and cuddliest of detainees, largely because of a rather bizarre finding that, though they might be terrorists, if they were terrorists they would be anti-China terrorists, not anti-US terrorists.
The term of art was “non-enemy combatants”.
The Uighur detainees were championed by politicians across the board, from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans…until clearing out Guantanamo became a signature Obama issue, and releasing the Uighurs was advertised as the first victory of President Obama’s humane post-Bush post-terror policy.
Obstruction became the name of the game, Newt Gingrich jumped in, the Democrats stampeded, and the Republicans--including Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, who advertised himself as the champion of the Uighur cause--faded into the woodwork.
The high profile Uighur release fell apart.
Subsequently, the Obama administration followed the precedent of the Bush administration, and quietly dribbled the detainees out to remote, low profile jurisdictions sufficiently insulated from the wrath of the PRC: four to Bermuda in June 2009 and six to Palau (an atoll off the east coast of the Philippines which relies on US aid for a third of its budget; it was reported they agreed to accept the six Uighurs in return for a $200 million payday). Two are apparently destined for Switzerland. The last five have refused resettlement to whatever exotic locale the US has arranged for them, and are fighting in the courts to try to resettle in the US.
Meanwhile, Guantanamo remains open and an embarrassing symbol, both of US reliance on extrajudicial detention and harsh interrogation (which will continue on US military bases and in black offshore prison no matter what happens to the flagship enterprise in Guantanamo) and American political gridlock.
Here’s a piece I wrote on the issue in May 2009: