Is Gitmo worth the grief? President Barack Obama wasn’t in office 24 hours before he ordered military prosecutors to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings for terrorist suspects at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama followed up with an executive order directing the Pentagon to close down the prison within the next 12 months.
Gitmo’s critics say detainees have been tortured there and that the prison’s military tribunal system is unfair. Defenders say it holds the "worst of the worst" terrorists who are too dangerous to be held on American soil.
Should Gitmo be closed? Where and how would terrorists be detained in the future. Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray.
It’s well past time to close Gitmo. The prison makes us less safe, and it’s a disgrace to American ideals.
Gitmo is a bad example. We know now that the horrific torture at Abu Ghraib was not merely the work of a few "bad apples," but the logical outcome of efforts to "Gitmoize" interrogation methods in Iraq. Abu Ghraib and Gitmo became rallying cries for terrorists and insurgents in Iraq, intensifying the fighting there and resulting in the deaths of many Americans and Iraqis. Close Gitmo, and America might win a few more "hearts and minds" among Middle Eastern Muslims and Arabs who might otherwise be inclined to take up arms against us.
As for our ideals: America was created as a country of laws, not men. The Bush administration sent detainees to Gitmo to evade domestic and international law regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. That’s a dangerous and undemocratic precedent that President Obama would do well to reverse.
POWs have been held on American soil before; German prisoners were held at dozens of Army camps across the country during World War II. Americans fear having suspected terrorists held in nearby prisons these days; that’s understandable. But closing Gitmo and treating the detainees firmly but fairly might actually make us safer — and possibly just a bit more free.
Gitmo is, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said, the "least bad option" for holding some very bad men who wish to do Americans harm. That doesn’t mean the terrorist detention center should operate forever. But it shouldn’t be closed hastily, on some foolish, politically driven timetable, for reasons more rhetorical than prudential.
Where would the detainees go? The question has no easy answer. The detainees’ home countries don’t want them. No U.S. congressman wants a terrorist prison camp in his district.
Turning the Gitmo detainees over to the U.S. justice system for criminal trial would be a huge mistake and set a bad precedent. Word is, the Obama administration is weighing a plan to prosecute as many as 80 of the more than 230 suspected terrorists in civilian courts. The trouble is, those detainees weren’t exactly apprehended the way police catch robbers and murderers. The soldiers who captured them didn’t read them their Miranda rights, for example.
It’s possible that many of these men could be released on legal technicalities. There can be no doubt what they would do. The Pentagon has reported that at least 36 former detainees are "confirmed or suspected" of returning to the fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. How would President Obama justify or explain that? There is no point in trying to deny or defend the abuses that occurred at Gitmo. But it’s plainly wrong to assert or imply, as many of Guantanamo’s critics and even President Obama have done, that those abuses continue to this day. Shut down Gitmo, if you must. But don’t do it to score political points or pander to world opinion. Winning hearts and minds is no substitute for protecting American lives and interests.
Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis podcast weekly at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.