Tom Cotton, the freshman senator from Arkansas, has never minced words when giving his opinion of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
In a speech he gave at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last week, he reiterated this position, making a strong case for continuing to hold the remaining 107 prisoners in Cuba.
Opening his remarks by recalling President Obama’s first call to close the prison some seven years ago, Cotton quickly came to the point. America continues to keep prisoners in Cuba because to do otherwise would threaten our security.
We do not maintain Guantanamo because we want to. We maintain it because it is in the best interest of our national security to do so. In this way, Guantanamo is not a unique site-not sui generis or separated from historical practice, as many of its critics say. It is, in plain terms, a humane and professional wartime military prison: the unpleasant but inescapable necessity of any conflict, well-grounded in the laws of war. Guantanamo was created to house captured combatants and has always been set for closure once hostilities end.
As the United States remains involved in an unconventional war with, as Cotton put it, “no frontlines and no specific theaters.” The existence of Guantanamo “allows us to concentrate trained experts in interrogation in one place to extract intelligence of paramount importance in uncovering and stopping plots against Americans.”
Bringing dangerous detainees to prisons inside the United States runs into another popular talking point: prison overcrowding.
As Cotton says:
If new facilities are not to be constructed, we face the problem that Supermax prisons are at full capacity. That means in order to accept Guantanamo detainees, other highly dangerous criminals will have to be transferred from supermax facilities to lower security prisons.
In short, as Cotton puts it, “moving Guantanamo detainees to the United States will created a federal prison population that is more dangerous, more jihadist, and much more costly to keep locked up.”
Wouldn’t it be simpler to continue to focus the manpower and resources needed to guard these prisoners in one location?
It certainly seems so. Even the Obama administration seems to have quietly come to the same conclusions: Plans to try terrorists in New York City were announced with much fanfare and then quietly discarded.
That doesn’t mean that Obama has abandoned his long-term goal of closing Guantanamo. Instead, his policies have worked to empty cells in Cuba even as ISIS gains territory in the Middle East.
This makes one wonder, as terror threats have grown, why haven’t we taken the common-sense course? This is the course of keeping bad guys where they are and where they belong, while also sending more terrorists to Guantanamo. But, the president has done the opposite and embarked on an ideological and quixotic pursuit of Guantanamo’s closure. While still searching for an answer to closing the facility permanently, his temporary solution has been to empty it by releasing its captives back to the battlefield and establishing random numeric goals at the facility
Closing the facility would be a short-sighted, politically-motivated decision with significant ramifications for US security. The risks, which Cotton enumerates in some detail in his speech, are real. Out of the 653 detainees released so far, 196 are either confirmed or suspected of having returned to the battlefield. Why should we expect anything less of them? They see themselves as soldiers in a long war–their struggle does not end with capture. Rather, it’s their duty to continue the fight as best they can, by continuing to resist their perceived enemy.
The point that Cotton makes bears repeating. Holding detainees in one location allows the US to use a minimum of manpower and resources to guard these terrorists. It frees men and materiel to be used to combat future threats to the United States. While holding prisoners in Cuba bears security risks of its own, these pale against the potential effects of releasing the remaining prisoners or transferring them to domestic prisons.
Cotton’s speech is peppered with examples of the foolhardy nature of administration policy. As he points out, British intelligences services are already stretched attempting to stave off threats from UK fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Which makes the administration’s decision to transfer Shaker Aamer, by all accounts a non-compliant detainee, to Britain even more concerning.
Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are treated humanely, in accordance with international law, and are afforded world-class medical treatment. Their condition has been monitored on more than 100 different occasions by the International Red Cross. And in the face of this undeniable evidence for both the effectiveness of the facility and its continued necessity, Obama continues a quixotic quest for its closure.
The risks of such an action are great. Cotton sums them up well in the final lines of his speech. When he considers the closure of Guantanamo, he said,
“I think of the soldiers in the field who braved death to capture these detainees, and who now see many of them being released to once again take up arms against their brothers.
I think of innocent lives taken and destroyed by these terrorists on 9/11, in terrorist attacks that predated that fateful day, and in the war that unfurled in its aftermath and continues to this day.
And I think of the individuals who will be killed and the societies that will be destabilized by the recidivists we have already released from Guantanamo, and by the recidivists the president may release in the future.”
Let’s hope that he isn’t the only member of Congress thinking this way.DONATE
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