Club Gitmo: Still a Hobsons choice
In January, 2002, 2,000 U.S. Marines were confronted with the task of converting the tiny Navy Brig at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into what would eventually become a first-class detention facility. Arriving on the heels of the Marines were over 200 Islamic jihadists who had been captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan.
The prisoners, who had been openly bearing arms against the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, were not uniformed soldiers fighting on behalf of a recognized nation-state that was willing to abide by the rules of war. Ergo: Under the Geneva Conventions, they did not qualify as prisoners-of-war (POWs). They were: Detainees.
The flood of detainees presented the Bush Administration with a Hobson’s choice. If brought within the jurisdiction of U.S. civil courts, virtually every fly-by-night lawyer in America would rush to the detainees’ location, offering to file habeas corpus suits against the U.S. Government – all expenses paid by the U.S. taxpayer.
(For those who slept through Constitutional Law 101, a habeas corpus filing demands that the detaining authority produce the person being detained for a hearing as to the reason(s) for his or her detention. Historical precedent: Using Article I, Section 9, Clause 2, “…when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it,” President Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus.)
The other Hobson’s choice was to hold the detainees somewhere outside the United States. So, the detainees were landed at the U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on land which the U.S. holds in perpetuity under the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately cried foul.
Granted the initially primitive Camp X-ray (since closed) wasn’t anything Martha Stewart would write home about; however, as quickly as possible, Camps Delta, Echo, Iguana and Camp 7 (maximum security) became facilities almost on a par with the Club Fed where Martha Stewart spent several months showing the other inmates how to do the prison laundry. Even though the detainees don’t get nightly mints on their pillows, the few congressional Democrats who have bothered to actually inspect Club Gitmo have been honest enough to admit that the physical facilities are rather nice.
Overtime, some of the “nicer” Club Gitmo detainees were processed out through Camp Iguana (a half-way house) and were accepted by their countries of origin. Unfortunately, 61 of the “nicer” detainees resumed their violent attacks on U.S. forces.
When Club Gitmo closes, those other countries holding Islamic jihadist detainees can legitimately question why they are holding detainees when the U.S. is no longer willing to do so. So, rather than just turning their detainees loose on their societies or tie up their courts with lengthy trials, summary execution may be one solution. Alternatively, they could put their detainees out on some kind of Devil’s Island. Neither of those solutions would please the ACLU.
Now, a new U.S. President faces the Hobson’s choice faced by his predecessor. It is probably too much to expect that any of the ACLU board members will volunteer to take home their very own detainee or detainees. Well, if their homes aren’t up to Club Gitmo standards, then that’s perfectly understandable.
But in those states with maximum-security federal prisons, some governors might see the arrival of former Gitmo detainees as magnets to attract hundreds of lawyers who would spend your tax dollars on nice hotels, fine food, and limo rides between prisons and airports. Lawyer-tourism, if you will.
We can’t ask our troops to stop taking prisoners without subjecting them to prosecution. So, here’s the solution: Return the detainees to the care of the Islamic jihadists with every good wish for a warm reception, for a well-oiled AK-47, and for better luck the next time they encounter U.S. forces on the field of battle.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton is a member of the Association for Intelligence Officers and the Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association.
©2009. William Hamilton.