Guantanamo Bay: is it making America safer?

Obama pledged to shut down Guantanamo Bay by the end of his first year as President.  One year later, Guantanamo Bay is still open and may remain so for an indefinite period of time.  Legal logistics and a strong, conservative backlash have hampered efforts to close down the US military base located in communist Cuba. 

Statistically speaking, a strong majority of Americans believes that Guantanamo Bay is a necessary tool to keep America safe in the ‘War on Terror’.  Based on a recent Gallup Poll, 50% of Democrats, 28% of Independents, and a mere 8% of Republicans support closing down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. 

But, is Guantanamo Bay really making America safer?  Or, is it actually making us less safe?

Raising such provocative questions over this issue often elicits a powerful, emotional response, especially from national security hawks, but critical thinking demands tough questions, even in the face of an entrenched consensus.

Advocates of the military detention camp often argue that it is needed to house the world’s most dangerous terrorists that have declared war on the United States.  It is also prized as a vital tool for obtaining critical intelligence, and is deemed preferable to federal courts and prisons since these individuals are avowed enemies and undeserving of the same constitutional rights as US citizens.  Perhaps most importantly, it is portrayed as a symbol of the United States’ “no holds barred” approach to defeating a brutal enemy.

Advocates often criticize detractors as being weak on national security, overly sympathetic to terrorists, and part of the “Blame America” crowd.  While these partisan-fueled talking points may make for heated debate on TV and Radio, they may not be as substantive as we have been led to believe.

Notwithstanding the constitutional and moral questions surrounding Guantanamo Bay, here are three reasons why Guantanamo may actually undermine US security:

First, several of America’s leading national security experts and military lawyers have argued that Guantanamo Bay would be best shut down.  For example, 19 year CIA veteran, Philip Giraldi, the top ranking military official of the United States, Admiral Mike Mullen, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, one of America’s most experienced anti-terror interrogators, Matthew Alexander, Former Major General, Michael Lehnert, and seven military lawyers who actually quit in Guantanamo Bay represent a short list of eminently qualified critics.  These individuals possess tremendous credibility on security and legal matters, yet they are largely ignored by staunch supporters of the detention camp, who instead choose to focus their derision on “antiwar kooks”, “liberal hippies”,  or the “Blame America first” crowd.  Simply put, the aforementioned list of highly qualified individuals has publicly stated that Guantanamo Bay has tarnished America’s moral credibility, reduced the likelihood of obtaining of legitimate intelligence, and served as a potent symbol for increased terrorist recruiting.  In other words, as long as Guantanamo Bay is kept open, it would appear that America is less safe as it prosecutes its ‘War on Terror’.

Second, strong allegations of inhumane treatment and flimsy evidence have also convinced CIA counter-terrorism specialist, Philip Giraldi, and top terrorist interrogator, Matthew Alexander, that Guantanamo Bay is generating more terrorists for the US to fight.  Giraldi has even pointed out that those who are released, after several years of detention, leave embittered, enraged, and more likely to join Al-Qaeda as a result of their time in Guantanamo.

Third, as controversy rages over whether or not to try terrorists in civilian courts or military tribunals, it is rarely cited that federal civilian courts have secured approximately 200 convictions of suspected terrorists, including the “20th hijacker” and the “Shoe Bomber”.  However, military tribunals have only convicted three suspects, two of which have been returned to their home countries.  Based strictly on the numbers, federal civilian courts are much more robust in their legal prosecution of terrorists compared to military courts.

Without a doubt, Guantanamo Bay will remain a critical constitutional, moral, and national security issue for the United States.  Based on the arguments put forward by some of the most credible military sources, as well as the statistical advantage of federal civilian courts, I would argue that the detention center actually compromises American security.  As a result, our nation and men and women in uniform are faced with an increased number of terror threats, not fewer. 

I would encourage proponents of Guantanamo Bay to reject opposition stereotypes created by much of the conservative media.  Instead of ridiculing critics based on the usual partisan vitriole, proponents should focus more on confronting the thoughtful arguments put forward by leading military, security, and legal minds who offer a different perspective.

That’s my opinion, what’s yours?