Friday, November 30, 2012

Don’t Believe the Hype: The Future of Guantanamo Bay

                No nation is perfect.  Every country has either a checkered past, a disgraceful present, or an ugly underbelly, although most have some combination of the three.  The United States is no exception.  With slavery, the brutal treatment of Native Americans, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two in the past, contemporary America looks pretty good.  This is not to say that there are not problems which should leave a bad taste in the mouth of patriots; the denial of equal rights to homosexuals certainly illustrates that point.  One issue which hurts the United States in terms of international standing does not technically exist in legal terms.  This refers to, of course, Guantanamo Bay.

            While America maintains a relatively kosher naval base on the bay, the controversy surrounding our nation’s presence there concerns the base’s detention center.  Established in 2002 to house detainees affiliated with terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, over seven hundred individuals have been held at the base, with the current population believed to be one hundred sixty-six.  While the detention center usually receives heavy criticism from the Democratic Party, that criticism does not translate into action.

            One of the more memorable promises from the 2008 presidential campaign saw then-Senator Obama pledge to close the extra-legal prison within a year of taking office.  As a visible and simple promise, the Democratic base rallied around the pledge, but the message apparently did not make it to Capitol Hill.  The Senate slipped an amendment into the Supplemental Appropriations Bill for 2009 which refused funding for the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo to federal prisons.  The amendment did not just pass, it passed convincingly, ninety “yea’s” versus six “nay’s”.   At the time of the vote, Democrats held fifty-seven of the ninety-nine seats (one seat, currently held by Democrat Al Franken, was empty due to disputed results of a special election).  Since amendments only need a simple majority to pass, Democrats could easily have stopped the amendment but choose not to at a startling margin. 

            This is relevant because a report by the Government Accountability Office was released by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California’s office on November 28 which stated that the prisoners currently held at Guantanamo could be safely transferred into the U.S. prison system.  Senator Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, trumpeted the report, stating that it “demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security.”  This is curious, however, as Senator Feinstein voted in favor of the amendment in 2009 which blocked funding for the very same action she now champions. 

            Besides, waiting for the GAO report to come out to call for the closure of the detention center is just an act of political cowardice.  Any clear-headed individual should be able to reason that of course the federal prison system can absorb the Guantanamo detainees.  First off, one hundred sixty-six new inmates would represent seven-hundredths of a percent of the total federal prison population.  Secondly, while some claim that the presence of terror detainees in prisons on American soil would lead to increased risk of attack, this ignores the fact that the Bureau of Prisons reports that it already contains nearly one hundred inmates convicted of “national security” crimes.  There have been no attempted attacks on the facilities which house those individuals, nor have there been any attempted attacks on Guantanamo Bay, which would seem like a more preferable target. 

            Senator Feinstein’s statements and the release of the GAO report by her office are just for show.  The senator has continually voted for laws which prohibit the government from spending any money on the transfer of detainees (“yea” on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 which included Section 1033 blocking such funds).  Until the members of Congress stop caring about the future of their seats more than the moral imperatives which supposedly guide our country, the Guantanamo Bay detention center will continue to operate and remain a pockmark on America’s international standing.


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