There are bad people, and then there are the “worst of the worst.” These people have committed crimes so vile, so horrific that they are not only stripped of their right to be tried in court but also of basic human necessities.
Guantanamo Bay was born out of the post 9/11 question: Where do we put these people?
After the September 11 attacks, the US offered bounties for suspected terrorists in Afghanistan. Beginning in 2002, America brought around 800 people to Guantanamo Bay, many of them acquired through these bounties.
Today, the prison’s image is one of orange jumpsuits, open cages, and torturous interrogation methods. And while Barack Obama followed through on George Bush’s pledge to close the facility, it still houses 41 men. These 41 men are “indefinite detainees,” those considered either too dangerous to release or not charged because evidence is “tainted or too weak.”
Guantanamo Bay is a purgatory between US court jurisdiction and international humanitarian law.
To keep the “worst of the worst” (as many government officials have referred to the remaining detainees) outside US criminal rights access, they were brought to the Guantanamo Bay naval base in southeastern Cuba. Here, detainees were out of sight and out of the spotlight. And in this dark, in-between place, America strayed from humane treatment and its nationally endorsed values.
At its core, Guantanamo Bay is a loophole, a loophole that must be closed.
Indefinite Detainment Far From US Soil
First, and most explicitly displayed, Guantanamo Bay sits on a small island, away from American soil. Criminals in the US have the right to a fair and speedy trial. But in a distant place, controlled by the US but not considered part of the country, this right is intentionally blurred.
Under the Geneva Conventions, it is illegal to detain someone indefinitely without a trial. But in Guantanamo Bay, the US government considers it appropriate that these people be deprived of not only a fair trial but human decency.
Second, those held at Guantanamo are referred to as “detainees” rather than “prisoners.” Under the Geneva Conventions, “prisoners of war” must be provided humane living conditions and spared from torture.
Referring to those held at Guantanamo as “detainees” put them in a different box. It separated them from the idea that they are “prisoners of war,” but also from any obligation to treat them as such, thereby going against America’s own contribution and presumed compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Finally, it is largely the avoidance of the Geneva Conventions that drove the US government to establish Guantanamo Bay. While it still exists as a mysterious place, there have been countless prisoner accounts of interrogations fueled by torture and other inhumane treatment.
From waterboarding to isolation to sleep deprivation, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques at Guantanamo Bay are no mystery.
Grand Act of Hypocrisy
Since the Cold War, the US has been the main global power. It has the power to assert itself in other countries where there is war, violence, or genocide. Yet, the nation fails to treat prisoners of war as though the Geneva Conventions exist. America asserts itself into other places to uphold humanity but keep these prisoners in space where neither the US right to a trial nor humanitarian values hold.
Today, Guantanamo Bay stands for things the US claims to discourage. It is, in its purest form, a grand act of hypocrisy.
The question remains: Where do you put the “worst of the worst?”
One option is transferring the remaining prisoners to a maximum-security prison in the US. There is, however, an association between 9/11 and the attitude toward the War on Terror that dissuades people living in such areas from wanting these criminals kept in facilities near them.
This then poses the question of the difference between these prisoners and other dangerous criminals already in these facilities. To answer this, we must reflect on where to draw the line. It is impossible to create a universal checklist that could push a criminal over from bad to becoming a part of the “worst of the worst” club. Therefore, the remaining prisoners should be transferred to facilities within the US and given a criminal trial. In doing so, the image of these prisoners could become less mysterious and unspeakable, and they could be viewed as more similar to other dangerous criminals.
Prior administrations under Bush and Obama began the process of shutting down Guantanamo Bay by organizing trials to determine if a prisoner could be released or not.
The US must continue holding these trials for transfer or move the prisoners to facilities within the country. Several countries have accepted Guantanamo prisoners, including Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
Closing the facility clearly presents risks, and we must acknowledge that there is no perfect answer. Yet, this is a situation that we need to consider in the bigger picture.
Guantanamo Must Be Closed
Guantanamo Bay allowed for the wrongful imprisonment of innocent people, but it has also undoubtedly housed very dangerous criminals. The lack of criminal trials for prisoners highlights a disconnection from America’s own constitution and the Geneva Conventions because the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is non-existent without substantial justification.
Releasing prisoners to other countries will pose a risk of re-engagement in terrorist activity, but what Guantanamo Bay stands for is a hypocritical approach to international and US law and humanitarian values.
To achieve any goals the US has concerning the fair treatment of prisoners of war in the future, Guantanamo Bay must be closed.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.