National Behind Which Bars?
What To Do With The Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay By Wenceslao G. Matos
Art by Chiyel Hayles
n January 22, 2009 President Obama signed an executive order which man dated the closure of the detention facilities at the Guantánamo Bay military base within a year. By doing so, he might have created a major foreign policy and national security issue. Although President Obama certainly has reasons to believe it is in his country’s best interest to terminate the use of the prison, the reality is that the Guantánamo Bay Prison must be reformed to make sure it conforms to the standards of American and international law, but must ultimately be kept open. There has been much debate over the legal ,8"# 07# 8(+# ;2,'0-+2'B# /0-5-+3+-8# ,-# 8(+# camp, as well as the methods used both to interrogate and try them. The Bush Admin istration used the prison to set up a parallel justice system to process those they consid ered “unlawful combatants” who, lacking uniforms and combat units, were deemed to be outside the Geneva Convention’s protec tion. The prisoners have been tried in spe cial military tribunals without several rights that are guaranteed to defendants under the U.S. Constitution (unconstitutional accord ,-*# 80# 8(+# I);2+3+# L0)28Y=# C)28(+2302+4# there have been repeated allegations of mis treatment and torture of detainees, causing national and global outrage and adding to the antiAmerican sentiment already perva sive in several parts of the world. There is no question that the U.S. government should not condone the use of torture or the infringement of its prison ers’ rights, not only because it is wrong in principle, but also because by doing so they contravene both American and international legislation and dampen the image of a super power that prides itself on the respect of civil liberties and the rule of law. However this does not mean that the prison should @+# +-8,2+:"# /:0'+$# $0&-4# %'# ,8# 7):5::'# %# 1+2"# important role of keeping potential terrorists and war criminals secluded where they can be questioned or maybe even tried without endangering American lives. The closure of the prison according to the executive order signed by President Obama implies the review of all the prison
ers’ status and the release of most of them back to their respective countries of origin, keeping only those set to face trial in the United States in custody. However there is no other facility ready to receive the pris oners in the mainland, and regardless of where they are housed, having potential terrorists within the U.S. still involves risk. T(,'#8(2+%8#,'#0-:"#3%*-,5+$#,7#8(+#;2,'0- ers publicly stand trial, as their mere pres ence could embolden terrorists groups to action. Another obstacle to Obama’s plan is political, as the relocation of the prisoners to a center in the mainland territory might be met with resistance from the local com munity. Therefore, if Obama’s plan is car ried out as intended, the U.S. will forfeit a facility fully capable of housing all the inmates in a safe location in exchange for a center in an unclear location within the U.S. territory, potentially involving civil ians. Instead it could continue to overhaul the military courts system while taking %$1%-8%*+# 07# 8(+# '82%8+*,/# @+-+58'# 077+2+$# by Guantánamo Bay’s location. The U.S. government should continue reviewing the detainees’ legal status and should eventu
ally free any prisoners against whom they do not have enough evidence. An alterna tive would be to try the indicted detainees in a military courtmartial as prisoners of war, which could allow the trials to take place at Guantánamo (away from civilians) with all the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In this way the United States would be able to safely process the prison ers while showing the world that it will not '%/2,5/+#,8'#:+*%:#%-$#302%:#,-8+*2,8"#80#$0# so. It is clear that Obama intends to send a message to the world that the United States intends to close the dark chapter of the abuses at Guantánamo Bay by shut ting down the prison camp. As a foreigner I can give credence to the importance of this task in order to restore the United States’ abroad appearance, which has been horri bly tainted by these episodes. However, in his rejection of the past administration’s shortcomings, President Obama shouldn’t reject what was arguably its guiding prin ciple: guaranteeing the physical integrity of the American citizens.
The Soapbox, March 2009