There are plenty of things the Senate should do before the end of the current lame-duck session, but there is also one thing it shouldn’t do: go along with the House in complicating President Obama’s plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Last week the House passed a spending bill that would prohibit self-proclaimed 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other suspected terrorists from being brought to the United States. The proposed ban is only the latest example of Congress’ insistence on divorcing itself from anything that might be portrayed as softness on terrorism.
The opposition to closing Guantanamo — and to holding civilian trials for terrorism suspects — gained traction last month after a jury acquitted a Tanzanian terrorist of all but one of 285 counts. Rather than welcome the fact that a jury sifted through the evidence and still convicted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of a serious charge, critics railed against civilian trials and argued that suspected terrorists should be tried, if at all, by military commissions — at Guantanamo.
To his credit, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. denounced the House legislation, urging the Senate to reject what he called “an extreme and risky encroachment on the authority of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute terrorist subjects.” The question is whether President Obama will be as strenuous in opposing the provision. Although the White House insists that the president is still committed to closing Guantanamo, he hasn’t made it a priority. And the administration has sent mixed signals about whether, as Holder promised, Mohammed will receive a civilian trial. This latest attempt to tie the president’s hands demands a more muscular response.
The Senate also faces a decision on two initiatives that have languished:
Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a military authorization bill to which a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was attached. But proponents of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military are now supporting a separate repeal bill. A Pentagon study has made clear that the policy can be ended without undermining military discipline. That fact, and simple justice, demand an affirmative vote.
Finally, the Senate should pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legalization for children of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country when they were young. Historically, the legislation has enjoyed strong bipartisan support, and a recent Gallup poll shows 54% of Americans back it. Its passage in the House, assisted by a few brave Republicans, has given proponents hope that similarly courageous votes will be found in the Senate. We hope so too.