Controlling the Guantanamo message

Tom Fitton President, Judicial Watch
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Barack Obama has made closing the Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) terrorist detention center an article of faith since his first presidential campaign. He said it again the day he took office. And he repeated as recently as May 2013.

Yet, despite all of Obama’s efforts thus far, strong public opposition to the notion of releasing terrorists into the courts or onto the streets has prevented Obama from fulfilling this promise. So what is his solution? To abide by the stated will of the American people? Not a chance. Not this president. As is so often the case, his solution is to circumvent the will of the people by rigging the game.

Obama has clearly figured out that in order to build his case, he needs to control the messaging coming out of the GTMO proceedings and persuade the public to adopt his anti-GTMO stance. The way to do that is to simply cherry-pick a group of “friendlies” to “monitor” and report on what takes place. It’s as simple as that.

The Obama Pentagon recently informed Judicial Watch that the administration is giving special, reserved access to the Military Commission hearings in Guantanamo Bay to five leftist human rights groups.

In an official memorandum, issued on August 19, 2013, the Office of the Secretary of Defense listed the criteria by which organizations were selected for the privilege of monitoring GTMO proceedings. They must have a “stated mission to advance human rights through advocacy and respect for the law.”

Now, take a look at the list of the five pre-approved leftist “non-governmental organizations”  (NGOs) that will be given exclusive seats at the table: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association. Do you see any “respect for law” organizations on that list? Not unless you consider respect for the law letting criminals go free. In fact, in some instances, persons affiliated with the five NGOs have served as legal counsel or political advocates for the terrorist detainees held at GTMO.

Noticeably absent from the list is Judicial Watch, despite the fact that it has been on the ground at GTMO for each and every proceeding for past several years, including the 2008 arraignment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the 2011 arraignment of USS Cole bomber Bad al-Rahim al-Nassir and a number of KSM motion hearings in 2012 and 2013. In fact, ours is the only conservative organization that has, at great expense, participated as observers in these proceedings for the past six years.

And that, of course, explains why the Obama administration has now chosen not to “pre-approve” Judicial Watch for the proceedings. In short, since it cannot be relied upon to push a certain message, Judicial Watch is not on the administration’s exclusive list of trustworthy monitors, a list now reserved to leftist groups that support the Obama administration’s efforts to close GTMO. As I explained in my letter of appeal to the Pentagon, “Your proposed system could have the effect of freezing out any alternative voices from the NGO community, specifically those voices that have not served as legal and political advocates for terrorist detainees.”

I wish I could report that Pentagon officials quickly recognized their error. Instead, I received a cut-and-pasted response that ignores our concerns and repeats that the five left-wing groups “were selected due to their ability to reach an international audience, their experience with international human rights in criminal trials and their stated mission to advance human rights through advocacy and respect for the law.” (Of course, Judicial Watch fits all those criteria.)

Time and again, this Obama administration has demonstrated open hostility to alternative viewpoints. And this is just another in a long line of examples. Judicial Watch will continue to protest this new policy while continuing its work to bring fairness and objectivity and, yes, “respect for the law” to the efforts to monitor GTMO.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton is author of the New York Times best-seller “The Corruption Chronicles” and executive producer of the documentary “District of Corruption.”