The president has stated again that he wants to close the Guantanamo prison, that it is costly, and makes the U.S. look bad in the eyes of the rest of world. He campaigned on this promise in 2008 but could not get enough votes to see it through. Here’s hoping that this time he has better success.
I’ve not seen the figures associated with operating the prison facility, but I have read that it is expensive because of its remote location, the need to fly everyone in and out that has a reason to be there, supplying the logistics to operate the facility, and more. In these times of budget constraints we should consider these costs and ask ourselves if they can be justified. For all the talk about money being cut from the Pentagon and national defense, this is a savings that makes sense. I would much prefer to see the savings diverted to the Pentagon’s more immediate needs.
The argument I hear most for keeping Guantanamo open is that the prisoners are too dangerous to keep locked up on the mainland. There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support it. These prisoners could be very safely lodged in any one of the maximum security facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I am unaware of a single escape from a federal maximum security prison over the past fifty years or more. Another argument is that somehow these inmates, who have been convicted of nothing, are more dangerous than our own homegrown variety. It’s not worth responding to such nonsense. I can only say that a handful of Islamic adherents, some of whom might very well be dangerous, would be no match for most of the hardcore residents of these institutions. In fact, their lives would be exponentially worse than Guantanamo because they would no longer be surrounded by their fellow countrymen. They would also discover that U.S. prison conditions are much harsher than at Guantanamo.
Any number of the Guantanamo detainees have been held for years without the benefit of basic due process. I wonder how many are there because a neighbor, ex-spouse, personal enemy, et al, took advantage of an opportunity to fabricate phony allegations. I saw this after 9/11 right here in the USA. The FBI call center received countless calls from people out to settle personal scores. At least the people being accused went through different levels of filtering to ensure that the criminal justice system wasn’t used for someone’s idea of getting revenge. I wonder if any doubters would feel differently if they or one of their family members visiting or working in a foreign country was arrested and detained indefinitely based on false allegations, and to compound it, could not get any kind of due process hearing. Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that every major convicted terrorist in this country has pled guilty or been convicted after a trial in federal court---and received a very long sentence. There hasn’t been a single incident of attempted escape or some kind of terrorist action to impede the process. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but I think over the years our law enforcement agencies have learned a lot about security. Our courts are a model of fairness to the world. We have always kept them open to the public so that those interested can not only follow the proceedings, but serve as guarantors through the media and First Amendment that the system works as it should.
Secret trials and proceedings out of view of the public have no place under our Constitution and open government. One of the reasons so many people have immigrated to the United States is because of our openness, our lack of fear to show our strengths and weaknesses to the whole world. Keeping Guantanamo open works against everything that we as Americans believe in. This should not be a political issue; it is one of the things that defines us as Americans, who we are, and what our values are.