Why Guantanamo The Place Needs to Be Closed

Jeff Weintraub wonders why Guantanamo, the physical prison, has to be closed in addition to discontinuing the slew of misguided and reputation damaging policies that have been implemented there.

I see two reasons. First, because a prison is by nature secretive – and indeed, Guantanamo was selected precisely because the Bush Administration felt it could skirt US obligations to international law – there’s no credible way to communicate a shift in policy without closing the prison itself. I suppose the US could submit Guantanamo to some sort of review by an international body, but given the US’ weighty influence in any such body, the results would likely be viewed with skepticism. Given that the goal of shifting policy is to restore confidence, leaving as little room for skepticism is the best path forward.

Finally, shuttering the prison itself has non-symbolic justification as well. Lacking a scheme for extra-legal imprisonment, the US would be forced to hold prisoners either as bona fide POWs, or else in prisons within in the US borders. In either case, the US would be signaling compliance with — and more to the point, willingness to be subject to — existing international agreements.

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3 Responses to “Why Guantanamo The Place Needs to Be Closed”

  1. Jeff Weintraub Says:

    But if this administration is committed to “doing it right” — that is, playing by enlightened rules — then they could “communicate a shift” by simply conducting our business there in a more enlightened way. Who cares if it’s “secretive” if they allow lawyers to come and go to see their clients, media and international observers to see how it operates — basically any due process and transparency practices that would apply to a high-security or even military prison on the U.S. mainland. And don’t tell me that it’s too inaccessible for that sort of thing. The U.S. is a pretty big place, and there are are countless other locations here that could be similarly inaccessible. And with the military in charge, they could probably shuttle lawyers and observers back and forth frequently.

    As for signaling compliance with international agreements, well isn’t that what we want our government to do? And what do we have now? They have virtually no place to go (except those few Uighurs who are going to Palau, wherever that is).

    I just don’t get it.

  2. Jon Says:

    Well, I think the problem as I outline in it my first formulation is that the physical prison is too closely tied the policies. Even “opening” it up to lawyers, media, etc. would still leave vestigial skepticism. After all, media and legislators alike were regularly shuttled to Iraq, even in 2006, for the express purpose of showing things in a positive light. I think that given the prisons history, the transparency battle presented by keeping the prison open is simply not worth it.

    As for your second point, many prisoners have no place to go because they are being held without legal justification. How would you propose maintaining a transparent and legal Guantanamo while continuing to illegally imprison people? And if a prisoner is being held with legal justification, why do they need to be held at Guantanamo in the first place? This strikes at the point: there’s nothing to be gained from keeping Guantanamo open unless the Obama Administration plans on continuing a policy of extra legal detention (which he seems to want to do, for the time being).

    Unless there’s an affirmative case to be made for keeping it open, it seems there’s only possible downside.

  3. Jeff Weintraub Says:

    If they’re illegally imprisoning people, that’s wrong and should be corrected, but it has nothing to do with the physical place, even if they were using it’s status as “not on US” soil to keep up the rationale of extra-legal.

    I’m not sure it matters anyway. No one’s listening to me.


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