In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York City, and the Pentagon, on September 1, 2001, the United States had ample reasons for wanting to isolate those involved in plotting and executing terrorist plots againsts the U.S. and its military forces. After all, how were we going to be able to make sure these criminals gave us intelligence that we could act upon without having a secretive sight on U.S. soil?
Now let’s enter into the discussion about the military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It was isolated enough and with just a few million dollars, we could have a safe place to keep defendents and our own citizens alive, with the base out of thought and out of the minds of ordinary Americans. After the Patriot Act had been passed by Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush, suddenly the detainees being held at various military bases for a variety of offenses, including murder, rape, and torture, could be placed away just far enough away from the United States that travel costs from the U.S. to Cuba would be relatively low, enabling the U.S. to detain terrorism suspects and enemy combatants, while at the same time not allowing ordinary Americans from the U.S., such as attorneys, to be able to see what was exactly going on inside Guantanamo’s detention facilities.
As is found in many maximum security prisons, inmates would be allowed outside their individual cells into cages in a courtyard for exercise time, and were subject to questioning at any time. Sleep deprivation, water boarding, and unscheduled body cavity searches set this facility far apart from U.S. based jails, prisons, and detention facilities. Individuals were and still are today being held without a formal legal cause outside of what is found in the statutes of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the legal handbook for all U.S. military personnel.
Almost 15 years later, this facility has long since lost its importance in the fight against terrorism. Most detainees have been taken to foreign countries who promised to keep these prisoners locked up without being charged with a single crime. Many came to Guantanamo Bay on “tips” from rival militias in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes as a means to settle scores between militias. If you were picked up in Afghanistan on an accusation of being an enemy combatant, that accusation alone was in many cases, the only accusation made against some individuals.
Now we don’t want you to think that Americans are incapable of holding prisoners securely and safely; after all, the United States incarcerates more people in prisons than most Western countries, and even more than some communist countries like China, Vietnam, and Cuba. Yes, the legal system in these countries is not based on constitutional rights as it is here in the U.S. Rather, becoming a prisoner of any of the nation states just mentioned, one can languish in confinement without access to legal representation for years on end, and without criminal charges.
Most of the time, enemy combatants are either killed, wounded, or placed under arrest for being combatants on a battlefield by most military forces, including the U.S. military. However, as we have learned over the past decade or more, physical torture was a common practice in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past fifteen years.
Our system of justice does allow for the inprisonment of enemy combatants and terrorist suspects in U.S. jails and prisons, on U.S. soil, and does not require us to confine prisoners at “undisclosed locations”, to torture them, nor to detain suspects without a criminal charge for indeterminate lengths of time. We are supposed to be the civilized country; not a rogue nation that feels it does not have to conform to international conventions on prisoners of war.
Even the detention of Japanese-Americans in World War II did not last fifteen years. Our citizens were finally released from custody at the end of World War II, and to not very much fanfare. Many people still, even today, deplore this action by the U.S. military. Yet there has not been a groundswell of demands to close down the facility in Guantanamo Bay here in the U.S.
Continuing to detain prisoners in isolation without a criminal charge being laid upon them, and for an “indefinite” period of time, turns our own law on its head. There are plenty of maximum security prisons right here in the United States where prisoners are kept in their cells 23 hours per day, with supervised recreation outside of their cells. Many of these prisons contain “death row” for those sentenced to be executed under the order of a court. There isn’t any reason why we can’t go ahead and charge these combatants under U.S. law, and then house them in isolation cells here in the U.S. until their legal cases go to trial.
We don’t have to be a country where law enforcement and the military torture prisoners over and over again. We can and must bring the remaining Guantanamo detainees into the American justice system, charge them with crimes, and then let the legal system do its job.
In the U.S., citizens and non-citizens who violate the law and are found guilty of a crime generally end up with a fixed prison sentence involving a specific term of incarceration, or are otherwise sentenced to die for their crimes. For these people, they know how long they can reasonably expect to be kept in confinement. Keeping people in limbo in Guantanamo Bay does not serve any justice to the families of soldiers killed or injured by these enemy combatants on the battlefield.
Many of us want to see the rule of law applied to these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Since the average cost to house a prisoner for one year at Guantanamo costs more than $1 million dollars, per inmate, the cost is far too much for the American taxpayer to be burdened with. In the era of the $19 trillion dollar budget deficit, luxuries like a torture facility such as Guantanamo Bay, or any number of other “black sites” kept by the U.S. military to house combatants offshore does not bring justice to families, nor to our country.
No man, or woman, is above the law here in the United States. Whether the individual is American or not, no one should be held in indefinite confinement for years on end without criminal charges.
Isn’t it this kind of behavior by a government in the past that led to the U.S. colonies breaking away from England, and the beginning of the Revolutionary War? Why should we as Americans act think it is okay to hold people without charge indefinitely? There are plenty of prosecutors and attorneys around to place these individuals on trial, and then reach a determination of guilt, and finally, sentence the combatants to fixed terms of confinement with an actual end date.
We should not want our justice system compared to those in Burma, China, Vietnam, or Turkey. We do not want the U.S. legal system to be turned into nothing but political court systems as in the countries aforementioned above.
The expense for confining Guantanamo Bay detainees has long since failed to equal whatever benefit we could have gained from these criminals. Let them be tried in open court, so that ordinary Americans have a right to be a part of the process, and witness our legal system at work.
Osama bin Laden is dead, and has been for a long time now. The real intelligence work of the United States is not done primarily by torturing detainees. That intelligence work is done by horse trading with those we seek to obtain intelligence from. With the cooperation of governments, like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China, the world can become a much safer place for all of us.
Many today wonder why so many young people are flocking to the Islamic State terrorist organization. We know that a part of the brainwashing that takes place within such an organization is to tell your followers that torture and brutality is okay because the U.S. military is engaged in those activities all over the world. After many years, Arab countries have finally come to realize that the U.S. has repeatedly violated the terms of the Geneva Conventions, and they, like many Americans, are sick and tired of it.
Where does our constitution fit into the argument to close down Guantanamo Bay’s detention facilities? Because it is still unlawful under the U.S. constitution to keep people hidden and apart from the justice system if they have violated the law. Even mass murderers in the U.S. stay in the U.S. after trial, and for those criminals from countries outside the United States, many will serve time in prison before they are deported.
Resolving the legal status of those held at Guantanamo Bay, beyond just telling us they are enemy combatants, and as such, are not subject to U.S. laws, is pure nonsense. Did they take up arms against U.S. troops? If so, charge them with criminal charges in a U.S. court, try them, and then either convict or acquit them of the original complaint. If they are convicted, then let our justice system determine how much time they deserve to be confined. If found innocent, return them to their country of origin, and bring the case to a conclusion, one way or another.
Spending millions of dollars per year on each Guantanamo inmate to house them in Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility is not allowing the American people to have justice for the crimes that have been committed. Let’s take the war on terror away from our shores, our military detention facilities, and use our resources overseas to find the “actionable intelligence” with which we can prevent terrorist attacks; both at home, and abroad.
We don’t have to wait until President Obama leaves office in 2017 to close down Guantanamo’s detention camp; this is something that can be done right now. If you agree with that statement, then contact your members of Congress for the state and locality where you live, and tell them. Congress does listen to the voice of the people when pressed to do so, and I believe that Congress can close down Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility. The only question now is whether or not the military is willing to cut its detention budget spent on foreign detainees and enemy combatants overseas.
Give us a reason to believe that Guantanamo Bay has stopped terrorist attacks here in the U.S., right here at home; not abroad. Tell us why we should be okay with spending millions per prisoner, per year, in Guantanamo. An explanation for continuing to do so is long overdue. It’s up to all of us to tell Congress that we want a better system, and we want it now. I could care less how long an enemy combatant remains in detention, so long as they are charged and tried in open U.S. courts according to our laws.
In the future, let’s try doing things a little bit differently; like not having places to “disappear” people. Let’s not allow ourselves be compared to regimes that we don’t agree with. Let’s not be the bad guys. Let’s be the America that so many yearn to see and experience. It’s a good first step to restoring our credibility with both our friends, and our enemies.