When President Obama signed off on Congress' repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Wednesday morning, he wiped out one of the most obdurate vestiges of homophobia in the federal employment system. We should celebrate this end to the federal government's sanction on its soldiers' sexual orientations, even if Congress ultimately lagged ages behind public opinion on the issue.
However, columnist Eugene Robinson has called the repeal "a clear, unambiguous victory" for Obama on one of his long-sought progressive priorities. Let's not get carried away.
Rachel Slajda at Talking Points Memo reports that, as part of a deal with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and other Republicans who threatened to vote against cloture on the upcoming DADT vote, Democrats agreed to include a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act banning the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to American soil – even to stand trial.
Let us recall that the odious prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open despite a two-year-old executive order demanding its closure. The Obama administration has certainly struggled to find so-called "third countries" to accept prisoners from the facility. But the single most intractable difficulty attending the prison's closure has been the United States' refusal to house its prisoners on its own soil. In a country with the most extensive prison system in the industrialized world, this is utterly baffling.
Senator Kirk's transfer ban, which will last at least through September 2011, only exacerbates this difficulty and prolongs a resolution to the Guantanamo problem.
It's fine to celebrate the end of DADT, but the moment is hardly one of unambiguous victory. In eliminating a policy that has drawn the derision of our industrialized partners, we have prolonged another that has explicitly facilitated the recruitment of terrorists.
If there are any gay prison guards at Guantanamo, we've just doubled their job security.