The Guantanamo Bay prison has been a controversial issue from its inception in 2002, to President Obama’s campaign to close the prison, and to the recent torture reports. It’s been a fight on both sides of the aisle, with a range of arguments being presented on whether or not to close the prison.
Recent comments by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton has revived the issue once again on the future of this compound. Cotton had argued at the Armed Services Committee hearing on the installation that radical Islam, regardless of the status of Guantanamo Bay, had been present before its opening and would remain so. The prison would deter more terrorist than recruit, and Cotton pushed the message that the compound’s closure is “not a security decision; it is a political decision based on a promise the president made on his campaign.”
President Obama has certainly highlighted his desire to close the prison during his campaigns and continues to advocate for the transfer of prisoners to other prisons and the full closure of Guantanamo Bay. What has limited his progress on this issue has been opposition from members of Congress. There have been a series of bills in relation to defense spending that impeded funds that would transfer ‘Gitmo’ prisoners to other locations, whether domestically or to a foreign government. Congress made an addition to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 by a landslide vote (90–6) to block funds to transfer prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay compound. And this effort by Congress to set up roadblocks has continued throughout Obama’s presidency.
Whether it is an honest concern or a political tool, keeping Guantanamo Bay open and fully funded is a major concern with the Republican party, now the majority power in Congress. Their power insures the continuation of operations and future deterrent of any executive actions to close down the prison.
Guantanamo Bay is more positive than negative, is what conservative voices are arguing. Extreme torture is necessary and the prison acts as a quarantine for terrorists. As Cotton has argued, the prison might as well as stay open regardless.
Cotton is right, in a sense. Closing the prison will not end terrorism, and the threat of attacks will remain present. But this does not give the government the right to continue such a barbarous and heinous program. Al-Qaeda certainly uses the image of Guantanamo Bay to recruit new members. It’s one of the many symbols of Western imperialism and torture being forced upon Islam and the people of the Middle East (said by these militant groups). Each negative action, or seemingly negative action, undertaken by the United States government or any other Western power gives greater legitimacy and propaganda ammunition to groups like al-Qaeda.
For the prison to end its practices or to close altogether would make an impact on al-Qaeda’s recruitment ability. Though it would not cease its conversion techniques, it would certainly lower al-Qaeda’s (and other radical groups’) legitimacy by some amount. Groups can and will reference America’s drone program, deployment of troops within the Islamic World, social influence and political transformations, and other interventions. However, steps taken by America to better its image and abide by international laws on war and prisoners will lessen al-Qaeda’s influence on a region in turmoil. It will not end terrorist attacks, but it will work to diminish the desire to commit attacks against America, its allies, and upon innocent people.
Several parties ranging from human rights NGOs, Cuban officials, and members of the United Nations have criticized the prison complex as a violation of human rights laws and laws dealing with war crimes and torture. Detainees have spoken out on the horrors inside of the prison camp they have experienced, including but not limited to forced feeding, use of forced positions, sexual assault, sleep deprivation, water-boarding, and other tactics. And much of the numbers and reports on these actions have been skewed by government officials inside and outside Guantanamo Bay. The recent torture report pertaining to the prison has attempted to shed light on accurate numbers and ongoing inside of its walls.
On top of being a human rights abuser, the prison compound is a drain on the government’s budget. The average cost per prisoner within the United States is roughly $33,000 per year, compared that to Guantanamo Bay’s cost of almost $3 million per prisoner per year. And of the 122 prisoners being held at the prison, 76 have been cleared for release (46 cleared and 30 Yemeni’s awaiting a stable nation to return to).
If the Guantanamo Bay prison is to remain open, it needs to receive a major overhaul and reformation of the system. The United States government has done a great deal to legalize torture and inhuman conditions for prisoners of war, often times going against international charters. The amount of torture and mistreatment by officials towards prisoners not only gives al-Qaeda and other militant groups greater motivation to strike and recruit, but goes against everything the United States stands for in the name of democracy and human rights. It is one of the largest hypocritical symbols of the country and raises questions over the government’s projected path in the future of the war on terrorism. It would be far more cost efficient and would envelop a better image for America to close down the prison and focus its efforts on regional rebuilding, invest strongly in international aid programs, and work with creating productive counter terrorism policies than to fight a seemingly endless war.
Photo Credit: Huffington Post