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An Open and Shut Case

May 24, 2009

Amidst all the talk about the difficulty to close Guantánamo Bay prison, a question that is on many Americans’ minds, the French Cowboy believes, is what happens to the persons who fall into President Obama’s ‘category five’ (those “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people”) who are still out on the battlefield. Again, the problem with ‘category five’ detainees is that they are dangerous, that they cannot be prosecuted, cannot be returned to their home countries and that they cannot be sent to other countries either. The current discussion on Capitol Hill is focused on Gitmo only and implies that the US will not capture any more terrorists who would belong into ‘category five’.

Yet there are more terrorists where those who are currently at Gitmo come from. What will happen to those people when captured? Since they cannot be brought to Guantánamo anymore, what will be done with them? The same options as with the Gitmo detainees arise. Let’s repeat what the Professor-in-Chief has explained to us: some can be tried in civilian courts (category 1), some by Military Commissions (category 2), some might be released (category 3), some can be ferried to third countries (category 4) and some – category 5 – are “the toughest issue we will face.”

Since Gitmo is no longer an option and categories 1-3 tend to set national security at undue risk as well as create political firestorms and draw unwanted attention to Obama’s policies, stuffing the tough cases into category 4 is the most attractive solution for President Obama. So the French Cowboy expects that enemy combatans (I defy the abolishment of the term) who would end up in Gitmo were it not to be closed will be shoved over to other countries – and how are the odds that those countries will be half as concerned about treating terrorists in accordance with real and perceived rights as is America?

Any way you look at it there is no better alternative to keeping ‘category 5’ (and a number of those who populate the other categories) at Guantánamo. It should be remembered that the current Gitmo detainees are not the last the USA, and indeed the world, has to deal with. And whatever is done to ‘category 5’ candidates apart keeping them at Gitmo will either increase the risk of more terrorist attacks or mean handing them over to countries where they will be treated somewhere between worse and much, much, much worse than at Gitmo. The French Cowboy believes that President Obama is fully aware of this but that he believes the political gain (within and outside of the USA) from closing Gitmo to be worth the price. That’s a gamble. But if he really believes (and I can’t say what would be worse, that he does or that he doesn’t) that “the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained” then it isn’t surprising that Obama takes it.

And yet, the French Cowboy could imagine that in the end President Obama will cave to the political heat he is getting on the issue from his own party and that he will effectively keep Gitmo as another unspoken acknowledgement to President Bush’s wisdom. Of course, Obama will have to make some cosmetic changes that he will spin into drastic ones in order to (try to) keep his face. He succeeded (more or less) on a number of other policies with this strategy and I think he has the chutzpah to do so even in this case. He might ‘improve’ Guantánamo Bay prison (give the detainees more ‘rights’ and guarantees, repaint the cells, rename the place to ‘Participants of Overseas Contigency Operation’s Hotel’ or ‘Man-made Disaster Maker Resort’ etc) or he might open ‘Gitmo II’ (under another name) at some other remote Island and declare that it is totally different from the original Gitmo. Even with the hypocrisy meter bursting, this would still be better than to stubbornly go ahead with the realisation of a bad idea.

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