This week, President Obama is expected to issue an executive order effectively closing the Guantanamo prison camp. Defense Secretary Gates has voiced his support for closing the prison, as has John McCain among others. So the President will side with them and order the prison closed. However, Obama has yet to say what will be done with the prisoners there.
As of now, there are 225 prisoners at Guantanamo. Some call them detainees. I call them prisoners of war. Perhaps if folks started agreeing with me then this problem wouldn’t be such a problem after all. There is nothing illegal about holding prisoners of war provided they are treated within Geneva convention standards. However, holding “detainees” is a far more complicated issue.
According to the latest Pentagon statistics, POWs released from Gitmo have an 11% recidivism rate. That means that more than one in ten who are let go will return to active combat against the United States and its allies. That’s illegal, and a violation of the Geneva convention.
The Pentagon also says that of the 225 prisoners, 110 of them represent a significant threat to America and should not be allowed to return to society, wherever that may be. In addition, 50 of them have been cleared of charges and are ready for release, except for the fact that their lives would be in considerable danger if we allowed them to return to their home country. So, after issuing his executive order, Obama will have to decide what to do with the 110 prisoners who represent a significant danger to the US and the 50 prisoners who can’t go home, along with the other 65 prisoners whose status is apparently in limbo. The point is, it’s not as simple as issuing an executive order. If it were, then Bush would have done so long ago. Does anyone think Bush liked having Gitmo? Come on.
So the way I see it, once the prison is closed then we have one of two options regarding the prisoners: we can release them in their home country or we can release them in the United States. Does anyone want to decide which option we go with? Perhaps we could release them to a neutral nation, except that no country will volunteer to allow these people into their country. So, these are the only options I see.
If it’s option one then I think Barack Obama should answer for any deaths that occur from acts of terrorism carried out by any of the released prisoners. He should have to issue a personal apology to the family of any American killed by a terrorist who was given freedom by his executive order, and he should have to claim full responsibility for the death. If it’s option two, then I recommend that they be allowed to live amongst those who cry for their plight…that would certainly change a lot of the attitudes about releasing these people. I don’t want these prisoners living in my neighborhood, and something tells me the powers that be feel the same. If anyone disagrees, then they should be the first to volunteer their neighborhood as a safe haven for the newly released suspected terrorists. The government will soon own a lot of foreclosed homes, maybe this would be a way to fill some of those homes, but only in bleeding-heart neighborhoods. For some reason, I don’t anticipate Sean Penn welcoming these folks as neighbors.
But perhaps there is a third option, which I already alluded to. Just issue an executive order that classifies these people as prisoners of war. To appease the human rights folks, we could allow a neutral envoy access to the prisoners along with appropriate oversight to ensure they are treated in accordance to the Geneva convention (oh wait, we’ve already done that!). We can even call them UN inspectors since the human rights folks seem to have a lot of confidence in the competence of the UN (after all, they did such a great job with Hussein). Seems pretty simple to me. If any of the 50 who can’t go home complain about conditions, then they should be given a one-way ticket back home. Once the war is concluded, and religious extremism is no longer a threat to peace, then the prisoners can be released. Any prisoner who returns to combat after release should be prosecuted for war crimes.
Again, it’s simple. Either we are at war or we’re not. If we’re at war, then the military should be combating terrorism and any captured enemies should be classified as prisoners of war and treated accordingly. If we’re not at war, then Obama should say so, then turn the matter of combating terrorism over to law enforcement officials, stand down the military and return them home and release the Gitmo prisoners to do as they wish with faith that they will obey the law.
It will be interesting to see if he has the guts to do either.