From the May/June 2009 issue of The National Interest.
IN FEBRUARY, four weeks into office, the Obama administration released its first prisoner in the war on terror-Binyam Mohamed. An Ethiopian citizen, Mohamed had been granted asylum status in Britain, a status which lapsed in 2004, around the time he arrived at Guantánamo Bay. Mohamed claims to have been picked up in Pakistan in April 2002, flown to Morocco where he was tortured-beaten, his penis and chest cut with a scalpel, his body burnt-and then sent on to Guantánamo, all apparently under American auspices. In this first release, there were some curious parallels with the Bush administration's version of emptying Guantánamo. Obama's team saw the transfer of Mohamed to UK custody, like the Bush White House saw the transfer and release of over 550 detainees, as a matter ultimately of diplomacy, not of legal process, one that relied upon political alliances. Moreover, the release took place outside of the military-commission proceedings. Although Mohamed was represented by Clive Stafford Smith, one of the most well-known of the detainee defense attorneys, his release, it seems, was essentially the decision of the president, not of any trial or review process. As the original commander at Guantánamo has said about the release of detainees under the Bush administration, it took a petty officer to put a detainee on a plane to Guantánamo and a presidential order to get him out.