President Obama claims that closing the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) will make America safer. This view is incredibly naïve and dangerous for a nation at war. The potential consequences are unacceptable.
Last week, Obama signed an executive order that calls for a task force to look at closing the detention center within a year. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s press secretary, explained, “The president believes that there’s no more important job that he has than to keep the American people safe” and according to Gibbs closing the facility will “… enhance the security of the American people.”
No one has explained how closing GITMO will make America safer. Have the president and his advisors naively bought into the myths surrounding the center?
There is the myth that GITMO encourages terrorism. The problem with this view is that Islamic terrorists announced their intentions against America — and attacked us — long before the GITMO detention center was established.
In 1998, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and leading Muslim militants announced the formation of a coalition called the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders. They signed a fatwa (religious opinion) that called on all Muslims to “kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military,” wherever they may be.
Subsequently, al-Qaeda launched its war against America by bombing two US embassies in East Africa killing more than 200 people and bombing the USS Cole, an American guided-missile destroyer, at Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors died. In 1993, al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center and finally succeeded in bringing it down in 2001. Over 3,000 innocents were killed.
There is the myth that closing GITMO will defuse Muslim alienation toward America which will hurt terrorists’ recruiting. The problem with this view is that GITMO is not the root of Muslim alienation. It is only a tool for generating anti-American thinking in the Muslim world that is commonly used in the press, especially in Europe.
Islamic extremists are trained to hate the West from an early age. The root of Muslim alienation is their discontent with their totalitarian regimes. America is often used by dictator-controlled media and radical Islamic clerics as a scapegoat. Recruiting among disenfranchised youth will continue with or without GITMO.
There is the myth that closing GITMO will make our allies more cooperative. There’s no question that America’s popularity among its politically correct allies has declined since 9/11 and GITMO has been a source of some allies’ discontent. Shuttering GITMO might reduce allied criticism but it’s unlikely to increase their cooperation or our safety.
GITMO has nothing to do with an allied nation’s commitment to the war on terror. Nations act in their own interests whether that means sending troops to Afghanistan or fighting pirates off Somalia’s coast.
There are potential consequences associated with closing GITMO as well.
First, closing the facility is tacit admission that America has done something wrong. Detaining killers and terrorists in wartime is justified and President Obama insults our service members by suggesting that closing the center is partly to end torture there. The GITMO detainees are not being tortured.
They are treated better than any prisoners in the world. They get better medical care than most Americans and they are treated with kid gloves. Many detainees have access to recreation 12 hours a day; they all have intellectual opportunities, including DVDs, books, and magazines. Some of them even take classes in art, English, Arabic and gardening. To suggest that we need a review of our treatment policies at GITMO is a slap in the face to our troops who serve there and are not allowed to even look menacingly at a detainee.
Second, we must not let killers loose to kill again. President Bush tried to “close GITMO” for years but the truth is that some of the detainees’ homelands refuse to take them back. Those who are willing to do so often are unwilling to provide credible assurances that they will take steps to prevent the detainees from returning to their murderous ways.
Unfortunately, GITMO’s known recidivism rate is 11% – 62 of 550 released detainees have returned to terrorist activities and that does not include those who engage in propaganda.
Last week, the New York Times reported on the latest case of a detainee who returned to kill Americans. Said Ali al-Shihri is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the US embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September 2008. He was released from GITMO to Saudi Arabian custody in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing as a terror leader in Yemen.
Third, the problem with GITMO is perception and even if the center is closed some of the terrorists must be retained. The perception will follow them. Detainees will claim torture no matter where they are held and their lawyers will litigate to get their clients released, claiming that it is unlawful to hold anyone without “due process.”
It’s estimated that some 80 of the 245 current GITMO detainees have cases strong enough to prosecute. These men must be held somewhere until trial. If they are found guilty of war crimes, then they must be confined for the term of their sentences. Still others haven’t committed a “crime” but undoubtedly would if left free to roam. They must be denied freedom as well.
One detention option being hotly debated is to bring the detainees to American soil. Rep. Jack Murtha, D-PA, says he’d be willing to house the terrorists in his congressional district. Murtha argues, “They’re no more dangerous in my district than in Guantanamo.” Ah, but they’d be 1200 miles closer, 90 of which are open ocean.
But that’s not the view of the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas community which is on a list of alternatives for holding GITMO terrorists. Opponents argue that the Leavenworth military prison is not equipped for terrorists, and that the community might be targeted.
There is also an indirect problem that could emerge should Leavenworth be selected to house the terrorists. Senator Sam Brownback, R-KS, said he had been told by officials from Muslim countries that they would no longer send officers to the Army Command and General Staff College if the detainees came to Leavenworth. What is the threat here?
The Obama administration is incredibly naive to think that we can close GITMO without new international rules for how to detain terrorists. This problem must be solved before GITMO can be closed.
There is no evidence that closing GITMO will make America safer. There is ample evidence that President Obama’s decision to shutter GITMO without first resolving the underlying international issues could result in more innocent American lives being lost.
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