The events of 9/11 dramatically changed foreign policy and the treatment of national security in America. Given the organized and terror-based nature of the attacks, it was decided that a unique facility had to be created, isolated from the rest of the world, that would detain people of interest and enemy combatants. That place became the facility at Guantanamo Bay, where the United States maintains territorial control and has complete jurisdiction, despite the territory not being part of the United States. Since its creation and occupation by enemy combatants, questions have been raised as to the ethical treatment of prisoners there. Some claim that many of the prisoners there are either being mistreated or do not deserve to be there in the first place, to others, it is a necessary evil, a facility where we can gain intelligence on new potential terrorist threats and the location of terrorist cells. Because of the dubious nature of some detainees’ incarceration and questions regarding potential torture, the facility must be closed in order to preserve the human rights of enemy combatants.
The existence of Guantanamo Bay and its operation has been troubling to many foreign powers and policymakers. They see it as a danger to American foreign policy, our reputation around the world, and a danger to those who are being detained there. The combination of torture controversies and their being held without trial leads many to wish the facility disbanded (Richey, 2011). According to opponents, the maintenance of Guantanamo Bay would not increase national security, and the combatants are being unfairly treated and stripped of their human rights whilst being incarcerated there.
According to opponents of the base, including prevailing public attitude, national security is not being protected sufficiently while there. Too many of the prisoners have been detained there under dubious circumstances, and have not been appropriately given trials to prove their guilt. There are many questions being raised as to the guilt of many of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Many of them “were no more than low-level fighters,” and would likely not give American intelligence sufficient data to justify their incarceration. These prisoners were not thought to be detained in order to form cases against their individual actions, but in order to gather information on higher level operatives in terrorist cells (Davis, 2010).
Some argue that Guantanamo Bay’s intelligence-gathering methods are not effective or at all ethical, and that the combatants are being abused during their stay. There have been instances where prisoners have been left without sleep for days on end, sexually and physically tortured, and a plethora of other punishments. In one instance, a high-level detainee named Mohammad al Qahtani named about 30 other detainees in connection with Osama bin Laden, later recanting those accusations, they were mere lies to stop the torture. Therefore, not only is torture of prisoners unethical, it is ineffective – prisoners undergoing torture will merely say whatever the torturers want them to say to make the pain stop. As a result, there is far too much doubt in the intelligence gathered from these detainees to provide a measured improvement in national security.
The treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay violates their basic human rights. At the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, U.S. soldiers forced the inmates to perform degrading acts including emotional and sexual abuse. In light of the Abu Ghraib controversy, it is feared that this has depicted the abuse of prisoners anywhere else, including Guantanamo, as the actions of a select few. However, there are those who argue that it is part of a pervasive system that leads the military to abuse prisoners’ rights on a consistent scale. According to international legal standards, enemy combatants can and must be given a military tribunal (Flowers, 2011). The conditions that led to that include the fact they are on an American Naval Base, and they were captured through military conflict, often through many of the skirmishes that take place in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite these circumstances, they cannot be held without trial, and this would take place in the form of a military tribunal (Alexander and Vicini, 2011). Since they are not being given these tribunals, foreign policymakers and public opinion against Guantanamo Bay is extremely negative.
The existence of Guantanamo Bay sends the wrong message to the world, fostering more and more animosity from foreign countries and fomenting more terrorism. According to many, the unclear detention of hundreds of men without charge on United States territory causes quite a controversy around the world (Chaffee 2010, p. 187). Many people already equate the detaining of many domestic prisoners of Middle Eastern descent in Guantanamo as tantamount to the Japanese internment camps of World War II; that 9/11 is our Pearl Harbor, an earth-shattering event that allowed us to detain people against their will, with no real intention of finding out whether or not they are guilty of anything, in order to find information on those who were responsible (Irons, 2009).
The prisoners of Guantanamo Bay are being held without due process, a problem that must be remedied by its closing. At this time, there remain 173 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, all of whom are being held without due process, not being sent home or elevated to prisoner of war status, granting them a trial (Hanley, 2011). There are already options being taken to find a new home for the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay; the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois, has been selected as a possible replacement or transfer point for Guantanamo prisoners after the facility would close (Obama, 2009). This would place them in a federal penitentiary as opposed to a military prison, affording them greater rights, as well as the right to a public trial. As it stands currently, however, the detainees are being given unsatisfactory treatment, and are not being sufficiently protected under the law.
According to American policymakers, there are few other places to securely store the Guantanamo Bay detainees, leaving little choice but to keep them there.. We cannot extradite them to other countries because they do not have the same type of facility they can easily dedicate to the sheer number of enemy combatants currently held at Guantanamo. They also cannot return home, due to the risk of torture or abuse once they were released, and their home countries might not monitor them to a sufficient extent. If we were to close Guantanamo Bay, there would simply be no place to reasonably relocate them. As a result, there is no choice but for the American facility at Guantanamo Bay to remain open (de Londras, 2008).
Great care has been taken to obey the tenets of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners, and the Red Cross and the United Nations have inspected the facility and found it to be appropriately managed. The detainees are merely treated as enemy combatants, not prisoners of war; they are afforded much better treatment than they would be if they were regarded as the latter. They are merely held there to prevent them from being returned to enemy forces to continue their work against American citizens. The detainees are being treated like military members, said military being terrorist groups like al-Qaida, in order to grant them unlawful combatant status (de Londras, 2008).
Despite efforts to lighten up on torture methods, and the use of clean teams to build a rapport and wean accurate information out of terrorists, it can be argued that many of their previous tortures cannot be undone. The mere fact that they were tortured irrevocably damages any sort of chance that could be had to gather reliable information on them; therefore, they are no use to American intelligence officials. Even the high-level detainees have been tortured to the point where any sense of rapport or cooperation is forever lost, and we will not gain real data from them (Davis, 2010). This diminishes any sort of assistance they could render in terms of national security; what’s more, the low level status of many of the prisoners prevents them from posing much of a threat if they were out. Even if they had been given Miranda rights, it is argued that they would have been much more amenable to talk and discuss sensitive information; however, with that chance gone, it is likely there is no real tactical advantage to having a dedicated facility with which to interrogate these detainees.
In conclusion, there are many strong opinions that exist regarding the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Opponents both within American political circles and foreign leaders insist many human rights abuses were perpetrated there, including torture and the holding of prisoners without trial. American military leaders and policymakers, however, believe that these measures are necessary to the security of America, as the presence of an isolated prison where detainees can be held and questioned without being considered prisoners of war is integral to our efforts against terrorism. The future of Guantanamo Bay is still in question, but its role as a representation of the often-questionable nature of the War on Terror is undeniable. Works Cited
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Chaffee, Devon. 2010. "THE COST OF INDEFINITELY KICKING THE CAN: WHY
CONTINUED "PROLONGED" DETENTION IS NO SOLUTION TO GUANTÁNAMO." Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 42, no. 1/2: 187-196. Academic Search Alumni Edition, EBSCOhost (accessed May 22, 2011).
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