Very few people will disagree that one of the worst Foreign Policy decisions made by the USA this century has been the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. While many will justify the decision made by President Bush as being a knee-jerk reaction to the atrocities of 9/11, no one can deny that the scale of loss of human life and infrastructure damage seen when the twin towers were hit is minute compared to that seen in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. One of the worst things to come out of the war, and one that has remained a flashing red light or rather a stain from the war, has been Guantanamo Bay.
While for many in the USA the prison is a justifiable punishment for those deemed terrorists by the CIA and other US Intelligence services, the gross injustices and human rights abuses carried out in Gitmo cannot be forgiven. Report after report by various watchdogs such as Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Human Rights Watch have shown over the years that the torture and punishment in the prison have consistently reached the level of “crimes against humanity,” and had the USA been part of the International Criminal Court these would have been punishable crimes. Instead, over the years efforts have been made to systematically conceal the extent to which prisoners are tortured, some of these prisoners being minors. The real question at this point is: will President Obama fulfill his 2008 promise to shut down the prison for good?
Over the past year countries like Ghana and the Unites Arab Emirates have been accepting prisoners from the prison into jails in their countries as part of the preliminary stages to close the camp, but with only 9 months left of his presidential term many are skeptical that this will be the final act of Obama’s tenure.
Three key developments over the past 2 to 3 years have reignited conversation about the controversial prison. First, the end of over 50 years of US sanctions on Cuba, the country in which the prison is located. Many optimists saw this as a crucial step to the prison being closed as it would make the possibility of the US making intentional moves to shut down the prison on a mass scale more likely, and less likely to cause an international incident. This however has not been the case as US policy makers have instead focused on the economic benefits of ending sanctions as opposed to focusing on closing the prison.
Secondly, the increasing US involvement in the war against ISIS. Combined with the third factor the 2016 Presidential race, many worry that should the prison not be closed by the end of the Obama tenure, then it may never be closed but instead modified and reinvigorated with a fresh wave of prisoners. As the crimes of ISIS escalate many fear that a new president may focus on taking a tough stance on terrorism that may lead to more prisoners entering the camp than those leaving. The fear of ISIS in the USA has been growing consistently over the years, bringing fears that radical Presidential candidates like Donald Trump may revive activity in the prison as part of his tough stance on terrorism.
Today President Obama faces the congressmen who have completely opposed the closing of the camp and those who do not want the prisoners relocated to prisons in the USA. This begs the question, which country wants to take on these prisoners? Even as the plan was put to Congress at the end February this year, many were skeptical of the viability of the plan with Al Jazeera noting that, “The White House has left open the possibility that Obama might resort to executive powers to close the facility.”
The question at this point is will the lesson be learnt? Will the USA’s refusal to join the ICC allow them to get away with repeating the mistakes of the past? Or will there be a new solution found to the fight against terrorism that avoids imprisoning minors, imprisonment without trial and other human rights abuses? 15 years after the war against terror began in earnest the world has seen that their efforts at imprisoning and violently attacking terrorists has simply empowered them and – has as the Obama Administration mentioned – made places like Guantanamo Bay , “a terrorist “recruiting tool””. What started out as the Taliban and Al Qaeda has resulted in the addition of Al Qaeda branches in East and West Africa as well as across the Middle East, ISIS, Boko Haram and Al Shabab. While all the groups have different missions they all have the same anti-Western rhetoric stemming from the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan seen as an attack on the Muslim Faith.
The stain that has been Gitmo is one that now needs to be permanently removed. Whatever decision is made by the US Congress it will be monumental. If it is indeed closed, then that sets up the beginning of the “return of Habeas Corpus” as promised by President Obama. If it remains open and becomes home to ISIS prisoners, then it may soon become the world’s largest recruiting center for terrorists worldwide, especially given the growth and sophistication of terrorist movements today.
The closure of Guantanamo Bay is one that has not received much media attention as the focus has been on various terrorist attacks worldwide. But just as much as the West criticizes ISIS and the Syrian Government of crimes against humanity, they have owned their very own center for human rights abuses for over a decade. The use of media to deter attention from the true issue of the USA’s hypocrisy in the matter of human rights abuses is one that has to be addressed as nations begin to look at this new war with ISIS. The level of sophistication and political and economic reach that ISIS has makes the idea of Gitmo remaining open even scarier than before.
Al Jazeera. Obama’s plan for closing Gitmo headed to Congress. 23 February 2016. News Article. 13 Sunday 2016. <http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2016/2/23/obamas-plan-for-closing-gitmo-headed-to-congress.html>.