Foreign Policy Blogs

Why Gitmo Really Doesn't Matter

The staggering amount of public resentment, outrage, and hostility towards the military facilities at Guantanamo Bay has always been disproportionate.   It always seemed, at least personally, the most logical choice in housing detained enemy combatants; it was located off shore, surrounded by natural and political barriers, run by the United States Military, and situated in a year-round hospitable climate. 

Now, I understand and acknowledge the major complaints lobbed at the institution.  Yes, it should be more transparent. Indeed, detained suspects should be given some form of trial and legal proceedings.  No, prisoners should not be subject to unnecessary interrogation methods. 

Those issues, however, are not exclusive to Guantanamo Bay as a prison, but represent a much more fundamental issue in the American justice system.  How should the United States process these combatants?  What are their legal rights? If found not guilty, what peace-loving nation will absorb them into their population?

For all of Gitmo’s attention, hatred by the left and adulation by the conservative right, it could easily be located in Baghdad, Kabul, Kansas, or New Jersey.  President Obama’s immediate decision to close the prison is more symbolic than substantive.  Guantanamo will undoubtedly close and its inhabitants moved to a new location, but the original complexities will remain.

President Obama must do more than close an aging citadel; he must institutionalize a complex and intricate new part of America’s legal system.  This could involve creating a new a branch of the federal justice system, a hybrid form of military tribunals and jury proceedings.   The central dilemma would persist, however. If found not-guilty, who will take these combatants?

Suppose a Saudi terror suspect is found not-guilty in our legal system (which is based on certitude), yet Saudi officials are convinced the suspect is engaged in insurgent activity.  He is legally free, under American jurisdiction, yet unable to return to his home country.  Should he be released into the general American population? Sent back to Saudi Arabia where he will either be detained, tortured, or executed?  Tuesday, Yemen arrested an al-Qaeda affiliated Saudi who had once been detained at Gitmo.  Again, this is not America’s fault, but highlights the inabilities of a broken system.  These complications should not be ignored, and help to explain the purposeful stagnation on the legal clarifications of Guantanamo Bay. 

To me, it is quite clear.  While Gitmo may have been a political hot-button, it really doesn’t matter.   If the inmates were held at Pelican Bay Prison or in Newark, NJ, the system would remain.  So, I implore both those on the left and the right, whatever your political persuasion, America needs to INSTITUTIONALIZE its legal classification of these suspected terrorists.  It is not about Gitmo, it is about justice. 



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;


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