The campaign promises of John McCain and Barack Obama, coupled with a U.S. Supreme Court decision yesterday, mean Guantanamo Bay's days as a prison for suspected terrorists are probably numbered.
What isn't clear is what comes next.
For those opposed to the Bush administration and the GWOT in general, GITMO has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with both. It has been condemned by Democrats, the UN, and Europeans along with many human rights groups.
Here is how Human Rights Watch put it.
Guantanamo Bay detainees are at increasing risk of mental illness because most are held in extreme isolation, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Most of the men held at the base in southeast Cuba — none of whom has been convicted — are worse off than convicts at the highest security "supermax" prisons in the U.S. because they are denied family visits and not permitted to have radios or televisions in their cells, the human rights group said.
"Guantanamo detainees who have not even been charged with a crime are being warehoused in conditions that are in many ways harsher than those reserved for the most dangerous, convicted criminals in the United States," said Jennifer Daskal, a senior counterterrorism counsel at the New York-based group.
Here is how the United Nations viewed GITMO.
The United States should close its jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and any secret prisons it may be running, a U.N. panel said Friday. "
The state party should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible," the U.N. Committee Against Torture said in an 11-page report
issued in Geneva, Switzerland.
The report concluded that detention of suspects without charges being filed runs counter to established human rights law and that the war on terrorism does not constitute an armed conflict under international law.
Here is how civil rights attorney Tom Wilner put it.
To me at least, this sort of criticism is the GWOT equivalent of arm chair quarterbacking. Sure from the confines of your lazyboy the wide receiver was wide open, but it wasn't as easy to see him with three three hundred pound linemen in the quarterback's face. The same thing is going on here. Sure it is easy to point out each and every problem with GITMO, but that's only because the criticizers don't actually have the responsibility of incarcerating the terrorists themselves. Whatever problems GITMO has, no one has ever come up with a better solution. For all the criticism, I never hear anyone suggest anything that would work any better.
Closing down GITMO has several inherent problems.
1) Many times those that we release wind up back on the battlefield to kill more Americans. Many times former prisoners of GITMO wind up committing terror once they are released.
-- A Kuwaiti man released from U.S. custody at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in 2005 blew himself up in a suicide attack in Iraq last month, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.Is anyone really surprised that once terrorists are released they go on committing terror?
Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi was one of two Kuwaitis who took part in a suicide attack in Mosul on April 26, the officials said. Records show that an attack in Mosul that day targeted an Iraqi police patrol and left six people dead, including two police officers.
An announcement on a jihadist Web site earlier this month declared that al-Ajmi was one of the "heroes" who carried out the Mosul operation. A second man from Kuwait also took part in the suicide attack, the Web site said.
2) Putting them through our own criminal court system is wraught with serious pitfalls. We really need to go no further than the spectacle that was the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. Of course, beyond the spectacle of a trial, there are a lot more bigger problems. Many of these terrorists have been flipped on by fellow terrorists. Not only would it be difficult to get these terrorists to testify in open court, but the danger to their friends and family would be extreme. While in theory it would be nice to believe that we could try all these folks in civilian courts, in reality this would be a logistical nightmare.
3) Many times the home countries of these terrorists don't want them. Here are some examples.
Only a few dozen, if that many, are likely to be charged with terrorism-related charges. Only two have been, so far, including Canadian Omar Khadr.
Most of the rest will likely be cleared for release. Eighty have already been cleared. But their home countries don't want them back or the U.S. does not want to send them there for fear they will be tortured. That's the case with 17 Uighurs held at the camp for five years. Human Rights Watch is proposing that Canada take them, to set an example for other allies to emulate and help the U.S. out of an embarrassing predicament.
But why would Canada want any of those alleged terrorists?
They are not terrorists, says Jasmine Herlt, director of Human Rights Watch in Canada. They were living in Afghanistan at the time of the American invasion in 2001 and fled to Pakistan, where they were among the dozens picked up by bounty hunters, or rival tribal clans, for up to $10,000 and handed to the Americans.
Rivkin said he does not believe the U.S. government could justify detaining most of the Guantanamo detainees if it were put to the more rigorous test of a habeas corpus hearing in U.S. courts.
Moreover, "I've been told, back when I was at Guantanamo, that Guantanamo itself has become a gigantic al-Qaida training cell — it's like a graduate school, if you will, for these guys."And despite the best efforts of the U.S. government, in many cases, Rivkin said, countries don't want to take back the detainees.
"Let's assume quaintly that they're not innocent shepherds. We cannot hold them, and we cannot send them to any other country. What are we supposed to do — give them political asylum here? Let them walk the streets?" Rivkin said.
Of course, often this is a duplicitous game because the same countries that condemn GITMO then turn around and refuse to take on their own citizens and try them in their own country, as in the case referenced in Canada.
4)Many times sending them back to their own country means they will really be tortured. Some of these folks are from countries like Canada, Britain, Germany and Australia. Most of the time they are from places like Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Sending them back there will absolutely mean that these folks will be tortured. We can close down GITMO and all of the human rights groups will cheer but often that means sending these folks to countries where they will face all sorts of horrors. If you think conditions are bad in GITMO what do you think they will be like in some prison in Syria. This is never mentioned in the condemnation of GITMO.
Even GITMO supporters, like myself, see that it is a flawed system, however we see that the alternatives are worse, much worse. Before we go and close down GITMO someone must provide a reasonable alternative. Whatever problems there are at GITMO, no one has come up with a solution that would work any better.