That's a bit of history Barack Obama must not forget as he prepares to close the American military detention center at Guantanamo.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, many of the prisoners remaining at the facility are too dangerous to be released, and their legal status leaves questions as to whether judicical convictions are possible in the current legal environment:
President-elect Barack Obama's vow to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cheered human rights organizations and civil libertarians, but could force the new administration to consider a step those groups would abhor.The bitter irony here is exquisite.
Some Obama advisors predict that his administration may have to decide whether to ask Congress to pass legislation allowing a number of detainees to be held indefinitely without trial. But civil libertarians think that even a limited version of such a proposal would be as much at odds with U.S. judicial custom as the offshore prison.
The debate suggests that the decision to close Guantanamo may be the easy part for Obama. Much harder will be sorting out the legal complexities of holding, prosecuting, transferring or releasing the roughly 250 prisoners.
Obama has never embraced an indefinite detention law, and his supporters think he will take steps to avoid that outcome. However, sharp divisions have emerged among Obama allies on how to proceed. The civil libertarians, legal scholars and lawyers who were united in condemning the Bush administration's policies differ on what to do with the prisoners at Guantanamo.
All agree that a crucial first step is to thoroughly review each detainee's case to see how many could be put on trial in U.S. courts and how many could be released to their home countries.
People close to Obama's transition team say officials have been busy filling key administration posts and have not decided how to deal with the aftermath of Guantanamo. Obama has said repeatedly that he plans to close the prison.
But some experts on detention policy, including close Obama allies, are convinced that problems posed by many of the detainees are insoluble: They may be too dangerous to release but will never be able to stand trial in U.S. courts because of tainted evidence or allegations of mistreatment.
For those prisoners, closing Guantanamo could require congressional approval of a law allowing long-term detention.
One of the most vociferous challenges to the Bush administration has been the allegations by the hard left of violations civil liberties of non-uniformed enemy terrorists. Now we'll have an administration led by a Harvard-trained civil rights attorney, and it's already clear he's doesn't know what to do with some of the world's most violent fanatics.
Think about it: The very terrorists who for years civil libertarians have championed as deserving human rights protections may in be imprisoned for life without possibility of a trial because allegations of abuse or tained evidence - legal claims that would be afforded to any petty burgler in domestic criminal cases - would in effect set them free to again kill the innnocents.
President Bush made the right decision in the first place: Hold the terrorists indefinitely as unprivileged enemy combatants for the duration of the conflict. We have now won the Iraq war, and in a few more years we may see victory in Afghanistan, where most of the original terrorists were captured.
Perhaps by that time the U.S. and the international community wiil have devised a new legal regime to decide the fate of those who might seek to return to the battle of global terror and renew the fight against the Western democracies.