Cynical Synapse

Sun, 25 Jan 2009

Guantanamo—Not as Bad as it Seems

Filed under: Civil liberties, Global War on Terror, Justice, Legal, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 8:02 pm

While much of the world apparently views the detentions of so-called enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay as the quintessential Bush-era US arrogance, that may not be so true. It seems dozens housed there have been determined not enemy combatants, but face persecution or injustice if returned to their homelands. That’s the case with a number of Uighurs for whom there are demands for release and return by China. “The prisoners should be handed over as soon as possible to China, which will handle the case by law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokewsoman Jiang You said. Remember Tiananmen Square?

Of the original 759 detainees brought to Gitmo—military slang for Guantanamo Bay Naval Base—only 245 remain. That means more than two-thirds (2/3) have been repatriated, adjudicated, or otherwise released. You don’t hear about those cases in the news. Instead, you hear about the minority that underwent intense interrogation, including the use of methods considered torture, such as waterboarding. Don’t misunderstand—I don’t condone torture. I also don’t agree with using some torture cases as a rationale to condemn the entire system or process. Consider Said Ali al-Shihri who was released from GITMO in 2006. Today, he’s a senior leader in Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Regardless, President Obama signed an order to close the detention facilities at Gitmo within a year. That’s a tall order. The remaining 245 are the complicated cases. Think of it like OJ’s murder trial—you know he did it, but the evidence just doesn’t stack up right. Problem is, the Gitmo detainees aren’t committing crimes of passion. They’re intent on destroying a way of life—our way of life. Whether by suicide bomber or airplane hijacker doesn’t matter to them. What’s to be done with these hardcore enemies of civilized peoples?

Keep in mind the Gitmo detainees were primarily captured by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the witnesses for the prosecution, if you will, are their countrymen. Some are still active in terrorist cells; some fear for their lives. Other detainees were picked up on the basis of intelligence—remember the Iraqi Most Wanted deck of cards? So, witnesses may be unwilling, unable, or just plain non-existant. Don’t forget terrorists committing crimes in other lands are not entitled to the protections of the US Constitution but should be no less culpable for their actions.

I think the key reasons Gitmo was selected for detaining enemy combatants are it’s outside the theater of operations (the Middle East) and it’s not on US soil. The latter is precisely why some argue the detainees are being denied access to US judicial processes. What these advocates forget is the US courts don’t have jurisdiction because the alleged crimes were not committed on US soil.

One thing is certain: the enemy combatant and detainee process has been less than transparent. This is, after all, uncharted territory. There are no clear lines of enemy and friend in the Global War on Terror because it’s not defined by territory like previous wars. The bad guys don’t wear uniforms and are not part of a state-sponsored military force. When captured, therefore, they are not prisoners of war in the sense of the Geneva Conventions. Should they just be shot as spies, which would be permissable? Our values would find that reprehensible, so they’ve been detained as enemy combatants. When traditional wars end, POWs are usually repatriated. That’s just not applicable here. Nonetheless, there should be some type of process to fairly and equitably handle the cases of the remaining detainees. Gitmo symbolizes that issue, but the detention camps are just the tip of the iceburg.

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1 Comment

  1. Well said!

    Comment by justhowicit — Sun, 25 Jan 2009 @ 8:08 pm


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