Shutting Down Guantanamo Makes No Common Sense
By Heather Robinson
Last week former Vice President Dick
Cheney defended the Bush administration's national security policies,
including holding "hard core" terror suspects at the detention facility
at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Cheney's warning that
granting rights to, and possibly releasing, hard-core terror suspects
would be a mistake comes on the heels of President Obama's announcement
that he plans to shut down Gitmo-a decision a majority of Americans disagree with, for good reason.
Americans are a people of common sense.
And shutting down Gitmo doesn't seem to make very much.
Although the President has already made
the decision, it remains to be seen what its ramifications will be.
High-minded arguments about civil liberties
aside, the evidence suggests that the U.S. has, if anything, erred on
the side of too much liberalism in its handling of the detainees at
Guantanamo. And that high-mindedness has cost innocent lives.
Of those inmates released during the
Bush years, at least 61 have
returned to the fight. Last
month it emerged that one of them, Said Al-Shihri, has become al Qaeda's number
two man in Yemen, and is
thought to have been involved in the September, 2008 bombing of the
U.S. embassy there. That bombing killed ten innocent people, including
guards and civilians waiting outside the embassy. Al Shihri is thought
to have participated in this violence after the U.S. released him from
Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, where he attended a Saudi "rehabilitation
program" for jihadists.
Rehab? For terrorists? Maybe it's time
we realized these are hard core enemy combatants, not Hollywood starlets
with a taste for Valium.
Gitmo's most hysterical detractors
paint a picture of the facility as the nexus of Dick Cheney's evil
Death Star, a place where torture is taking place and people disappear,
never to be heard from again. That description could aptly describe
facilities in Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein, but not Guantanamo.
With all the emotion surrounding Gitmo,
few people actually pay attention to the facts
about what actually goes on there.
Inmates have clean rooms, excellent medical care, access to books and
writing materials, and decent meals that provide 4,000 calories a day.
They receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross,
as well as consultations with their attorneys.
Each detainee gets to appear yearly before an administrative review
board comprised of three
military officers. With the aid of their attorneys, detainees can present
evidence to argue for their release or relocation. As of last month,
a cumulative total of 520 detainees had been relocated or released as
a result of this process--far more than the 250 currently being held,
whom the Department of Homeland Security describes as "dangerous men"
and "enemy combatants [who] represent a threat to the U.S. or our
The reality is, shutting down Gitmo will
usher in a raft of legal complications that will likely result in the
release of some hard core detainees, according to Brooke Goldstein,
an attorney and director of the Legal Project for Daniel Pipes' Middle
East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank dedicated to promoting U.S.
interests in the mideast.
"If Guantanamo prisoners are moved
to a domestic prison, they will be subject to U.S. law and will be afforded
the same rights and constitutional protections of an American citizen,"
Goldstein said. "Based on the succession of past cases, it is certain
that after they are tried in the U.S., some of these prisoners will
be released. If they are released ... the chances of their rejoining
the violent jihadi movement are high."
Goldstein adds that civil libertarians'
objections to detainees being held without trial fails to take into
account that jihadists have declared a war without end against the U.S.
"According to the Geneva Conventions,
you can hold enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities until
peace has been declared," she says. "It gets muddied because these
guys have declared an indefinite war against the United States and Western
Further practical problems that might
develop if detainees were moved to U.S. prisons include radicalization
of prisoners in U.S. facilities.
"What effect will these prisoners have
on other prisoners?" says Goldstein. "We already have a problem
of radicalization in our prisons towards a militant version of Islam-do
we want to add to that?"
Not to mention that relocating detainees
to U.S. cities poses potential problems for communities located within
the vicinity of a prison.
"Take into consideration the people
who live in these areas," says Goldstein. "If you are moving people
into domestic areas, what kind of threat will you place people who live
in the area in?"
With attorneys to advocate for them,
and yearly review of their cases, as well as the chance to pray six times
a day, the detainees at Guantanamo
have more rights and privileges than did German or Japanese prisoners
of war during World War II. But unlike Japanese and German soldiers,
who were conscripted into armies and had no choice but to fight unless
they were willing to be shot for treason, jihadists voluntarily wage
war on the U.S. and our allies.
Is it really appropriate or useful for
them to believe that, should they be caught planning attacks, high-minded
Americans will rush to agitate for their rights, and possibly their
It's just not good common sense.
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Heather Robinson is a New York-based journalist. Comment by clicking here.
© 2009, Heather Robinson