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The Case for Closing Guantánamo Bay

President Barack Obama has recently called again for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay military prison and the transfer of all detainees held there to prisons in the United States. To effectively close GITMO, however, Congress will almost certainly have to repeal a rider to the National Defense Appropriations Act banning the transfer of GITMO detainees to the US. All the Republican presidential candidates and the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate have condemned the President’s proposal. They argue that closing GITMO and bringing the detainees here will endanger the US, make the homeland more prone to terrorist attack, and generally threaten US security. Some Democratic leaders have likewise joined the Republicans in denouncing the President’s proposal.

Their argument has some appeal. Terrorism is theater and the media give terrorist organizations a world stage. If individuals who are accused or convicted of terrorist offenses are brought to the US, with its huge media market and capability, Daesh (ISIS), Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other related organizations might be more likely to launch terrorist attacks in the US or take American hostages in an effort to free their captured colleagues.

In the long term, however, keeping Guantánamo Bay open to imprison alleged or convicted Islamic terrorists there continually reminds the world community of a dark chapter in US history. The Bush-Cheney administration established a deliberate regime of mistreatment in GITMO, subjecting detainees to alternative hot and cold cells, stress positions, sleep deprivation, light deprivation, continuously loud music, un-muzzled dogs, solitary confinement for many, and reportedly, “forced water choking or drowning” in some cases. US interrogators threatened detainees with extraordinary rendition to countries, such as Jordan and Egypt, with appalling reputations as torturing states. In addition, one of the CIA’s black sites was located in a special facility in GITMO. Lastly, the US under the Obama administration engaged in rough force feeding techniques for detainees on hunger strike. Nine detainees have died in GITMO and at least 41 have attempted suicide.

Let us not forget that the Bush-Cheney administration chose GITMO as the site to imprison suspected Islamic terrorists in part to ensure that they would be outside the protection of US courts. The detainees were initially denied the right tocounsel and to any legal process whatsoever. Many were in effect “secretly detained”— meaning that the US did not publicly register the names of the detainees for a long period and prohibited the Red Cross from visiting certain detainees. Granted, conditions in GITMO have considerably improved and only 91 detainees remain. But keeping GITMO open reinforces the conviction held by much of the world that the US discriminates against, mistreats, and, in some cases, tortures Muslim detainees, confines a number (about 45) indefinitely without charging them, and gives, at best, second rate justice to those who are charged and tried in untested Military Commissions.

Aside from the fact that US federal courts have, since 9/11, convicted about 500 alleged terrorists without incident, whereas the GITMO military commissions have convicted only a handful, it is important to note that Russia and several European countries colonized virtually all Muslim countries, including what is now Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Chechnya, Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. Colonizing a nation humiliates the leaders and the people of that nation. They become second class citizens in their own country, facing close to what African Americans faced in the Jim Crow South. After going through the scarring experience of colonization, a people generally has a heightened consciousness of double standards, of being singled out for discrimination or mistreatment.

Our strongest defense against “lone wolf” terrorists is gaining the cooperation of the Muslim community here and abroad—Muslims who would be willing and able to alert authorities when observing individuals in their community engaging in suspicious behavior. Applying double standards to Muslims, singling them out for special treatment, and otherwise violating their international human rights not only undercuts the nation’s reputation for upholding the rule of law, but also may make it far more difficult to gain the trust and cooperation of the Muslim community.

Notwithstanding her flaws as a candidate, Hillary Clinton got it right when, in a debate with Bernie Sanders, she said, “We need to understand that American Muslims are on the front line of our defense. They are more likely to know what’s happening in their families and their communities, and they need to feel not just invited, but welcomed within the American society.”

Despite the risks, closing Guantánamo Bay is a necessary step to achieve that objective, to restore our moral authority, and to enhance our future security.

Thomas M. McDonnell is a professor of international law at Pace Law School and is the author of “The United States, International Law and the Struggle against Terrorism.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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