I keep hearing that one of the first acts of President Obama when he takes office in January will be to announce the closure of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. Symbolically this will have a significant impact on the world image of the United States. Guantanamo Bay has become synonymous with human righs abuses and the role of the camp itself is, of course, extremely dubious in terms of international law. It will remove one thread of the single narrative used to lure individuals down the path to violent extremism (not in itself enough to stop violent extremism, but helpful nonetheless).
The question now being posed is what will happen to the detainees. Only a tiny number have ever been fed into a proper judicial process for trial. Some of them if returned to their former countries of origin are likely to face torture or the death penalty. Moreover, as one sage counter-terrorist expert pointed out to me the other evening, if a detainee wasn’t a terrorist or a violent extremist when he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, the experience there may well have turned him into one. No easy challenge for the incoming Obama administration.
Another early decision of the Obama administration will also probably be to merge the Homeland Security Council with the National Security Council. This too looks like a wise decision – having a dual leadership function for something like security, as has existed in the US since 2002, is a recipe for duplication, unclear accountability, and muddle.