Senator Dianne Feinstein recently commissioned a Government Accountability Office report identifying prison facilities in the continental United States suitable for detainees currently held in Guantánamo Bay. After Fox News reported about this document, her office released a statement saying that the GAO's study "demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantánamo without imperiling our national security."
Independently, a coalition of advocacy groups sent President Obama an open letter on Tuesday urging him to veto the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act if it impedes the administration's ability to close Guantánamo.
Thus, though U.S. detention policy was not a contested part of the 2012 election, it may reemerge as a political issue. Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution noted in his essential volume Detention and Denial that current public discussion of the issue represents "denial and obfuscation," in that "we pretend that noncriminal detention doesn't exist or that we're phasing it out" rather than facing the daunting task of reforming it.
The early stages of this new round of wrangling over detention policy, unfortunately, seem to represent another step in the direction of denial rather than toward reform.
At the outset, let's not pretend that physically moving Guantánamo detainees into the United States addresses any of the reasons noncriminal detention has been controversial. True, moving the location of detention removes the physical symbol of Gitmo, which has a great deal of resonance internationally. But the substance of the policy would not change if detainees were housed in Illinois rather than Guantánamo. The same laws, rules of evidence, and construction of presidential power would remain even if the location shifted. Yet this renewed debate is largely shaping up as an argument over where detainees should be held.