The End of the Road for Guantanamo?

In 2009, on his second day in office, Barack Obama released a presidential order outlining plans for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities within the year. Close to four years later the prison remains open and looks set to carry on indefinitely. So where did it all go wrong? And will Obama ever follow through with his pledge to shut it down? It has undoubtedly been a stain on both American jurisprudence and foreign policy over the last ten years, and breeds far more terrorists than it incarcerates.

Once again we are faced with the circus that is American politics. The legislature managed to successfully block Obama’s attempts at shutting down the prison by a series of restrictions found in the annual military budget bill. The political mire that Obama found himself stranded in included restrictions on transferring prisoners to the US, making funds available to prepare facilities in the States to house the prisoners and releasing many of the detainees who have not been charged or held to trial. In the face of such political fallout, Obama backed down. The prison remained open, but no new detainees were sent there. That still leaves an unconstitutional rendition centre holding one hundred and sixty-six detainees with nowhere to go and little chance of getting out.

Politicians get edgy in the face of a prospective Guantanamo closure. The main consideration would be where to put the detainees currently held there. The Obama administration is working on transferring many of them to other countries, but there are many the administration consider too dangerous for transfer and they lack the sufficient evidence to bring them to trial. Transfer to American soil in military custody would make the most sense in these cases, and many could face war crimes charges before a military commission. The United States already holds three hundred and seventy-three individuals convicted of terrorism in maximum-security facilities across the country, and a recent congressional study has found plenty more spaces that could safely hold those currently incarcerated in Guantanamo.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman who ordered the report back in 2008, Californian Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has since come forward to explain that Guantanamo could be closed if the ‘political will exists.’ However true this may be, the political will to do so must be very strong, as it would most likely require a presidential veto on the National Defence Authorization Act, the military budget. The language restricting Obama’s ability to close Guantanamo is likely to still be in the budget, and many human rights and civil liberties groups have called for Obama to veto unless the language is dramatically changed. Guantanamo Bay still remains a popular propaganda tool for politicians wanting to look tough on terror, which means few are likely to support its closure. Many politicians have found excuses as to why transfer to American soil would be a bad idea for Guantanamo detainees, the number one fear being the idea of a terrorist loose on American soil for some reason.

The picture of a Guantanamo prisoner somehow escaping into the public is excessive fear mongering, but it works to keep American politics on edge. The pervasive politics of fear looks set once again to win the battle over justice and common sense. Guantanamo Bay sets a dangerous precedent and has been a blot on the United State’s international prestige and authority since it opened. Since that time, prisoners have been subject to bad conditions and torture, and 15 children under the age of 18 have been imprisoned there, the youngest at about 12 or 13. The detention facility has now been open for more than ten years and has been a useful propaganda tool for organisations recruiting potential terrorists. It just does not make sense for an inhumane and ineffective facility that costs more than $114 million a year to remain open. Can Obama overcome the rhetoric of fear that surrounds it and pack the political punch to finally close it once and for all? Only time will tell.