The Outrage Machine is a weekly opinion column by voices from the left and right on Washington.
The detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay are imperfect.
Most importantly, some who have been detained there should not have been. But that said, if like me you believe the United States is at war with al-Qaeda and its ideological affiliates (ISIL included), Guantanamo Bay must remain open.
For a start, we must remind ourselves that Guantanamo’s inmate population is not made up of serious criminals. It is made up of violent political actors – terrorists of the truest order. In Guantanamo’s case, these are individuals driven by an existential struggle to purify the earth under a banner of Sunni-Salafist supremacism. They seek America’s alienation from the Middle East so as to enable their overthrow of honorable American allies like Jordan. Then forging a Caliphate in the then ashes of the Middle East, al-Qaeda would project its terrorizing ideology across the world.
This, I’m afraid, is not a point of debate. It is a fact of reality proved by the many former Guantanamo inmates who, once released, have returned to terrorism. According to the Director of National Intelligence, these “terrorist returners”account for over 28 percent of all former Guantanamo detainees. Again, these aren’t criminals engaging in recidivism — these are ideologically committed killers on perceived ordained missions from God.
Yet it gets worst. Responding to the Islamic State’s rise, some former inmates are now re-aligned to the ISIL/Islamic State Caliphate. Their number apparently includes at least one former British inmate of Guantanamo and two former Belgium-based inmates. Consider how ISIL might use its formidable propaganda campaign to use former Guantanamo members to recruit new personnel. There is no doubt that ISIL poses a profound threat to the United States. Correspondingly, we should be cautious about any policy that empowers the group with further fighters.
This links to the broader issue of what relocation to the U.S. domestic penal systems offers Guantanamo terrorists.
Again, the first issue is propaganda. As I’ve noted, trans-nationally minded Salafi-Jihadists do not see U.S. federal court and corrections systems as extensions of Guantanamo Bay. Instead, they see these systems as a means to proselytize for their agenda.
The greater degree of openness in the U.S. domestic criminal justice is normally a good thing. The openness also offers terrorists a means to mobilize (unfortunately delusional) advocacy groups and generate anti-American lies in global media. Lies that recruit new terrorists. Just look at how Guantanamo inmates use propaganda warfare already. Whether in agitating against female military police officers, or ambushing other U.S. MPs with improvised weapons, many of these detainees show a consistent desire for jihadism however possible.
The second problem posed by closing Guantanamo is security. Where, as at present, Guantanamo inmates are guarded by the U.S. military and contained in a hardened facility, any U.S. domestic prison facility would be far more vulnerable to attack. This is true in the obvious sense of inspiring attackers (in the vein of the Garland, Texas attackers) to travel to the prison location without having to cross the Caribbean. But the threat would also extend against the local communities surrounding any prison. Remember, Salafi-Jihadists take particular pleasure in symbolic targeting operations.
Of course, attempting to dilute the obvious controversy of their proposals, relocation advocates would have us believe that Guantanamo’s inmate population is made up mostly of men who simply got lost on the way to an Afghan wedding.
This is perfectly encapsulated in the celebrity treatment of recently released British inmate, Shaker Aamer. While Mr. Aamer is presented as a martyr against injustice, in reality he is a man who served al-Qaeda’s ideology and its senior officers. The same is true of most other inmates at Guantanamo. And don’t buy the “we create more enemies with Guantanamo” line. As the penal system in Islamic-jurisprudence dominated nations proves, Muslims tend to have a fair affinity for tough justice — as long as it is presented transparently.
In the same way, many who favor re-location also claim that the “cleared list” of detainees ready for release proves many are no longer a threat. But what these advocates fail to explains is why cleared individuals are still at Guantanamo — it’s because no one wants them. And for just a second, contemplate why that might be. Here’s a hint: it isn’t an issue of financial relocation costs. Rather it reflects the notion that just because a prisoner has been cleared for release, he may not be cleared for civil society. It is truly telling that so many nations are happy to complain about human rights and Guantanamo, but unwilling to offer re-location.
None of this is to say that Guantanamo Bay cannot be reformed for the better. As I argued back in 2012, even bearing the risks in mind, more should be done to return no-threat prisoners for release to home nations. Greater U.S. diplomatic pressure could play a positive role here. In lieu of this, non-threat prisoners should be granted greater liberty at Guantanamo than other prisoners.
Still, we should be clear about what’s going on here. Guantanamo is being closed in order to preference President Obama’s liberal legacy. U.S. national security concerns are distinctly secondary. And that’s a real problem. The debate over closing Guantanamo cannot center in peripheral philosophy. By his own admission, President Obama’s first responsibility as Commander-in-Chief is the protection of American life and liberty. Closing Guantanamo would achieve the very opposite effect.