After up to six years of confinement without access to evidence or an impartial trial, five Guantanamo detainees announced last week that they intend to plead guilty to coordinating the 9/11 attacks. At least one of the detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was previously a victim of water-boarding, during which he “confessed” to a laundry list of terrorist activities and future operations.
Intelligence officials at the CIA and former FBI agents seriously question the reliability of his confessions, believing most of his confessions to be disinformation rather than reliable intelligence. Thus, it is already apparent that Mr. Mohammed’s confessions have a questionable basis in fact.
Additionally, the military judge also ordered a mental evaluation of two of the other detainees wishing to now profess their guilt.
Because Guantanamo has evolved into a symbol of repression, torture, and arbitrary rulings, everything about it is suspect, even confessions. These recent developments only highlight the urgent need for President-elect Obama to close down Guantanamo without further military commission hearings, even hearings to accept confessions.
Proponents of Guantanamo are now rallying to convince the president-elect to keep Guantanamo open. They argue over the challenges of closing the prison and act as though its reputation is still capable of rehabilitation. This position is flawed because it prioritizes managing the consequences of the War of Terror (housing detainees) over achieving progress in the War on Terror. Because of logistics, proponents want Guantanamo to remain open, even though closing it has significant strategic value in counterterrorism operations.
Proponents of Guantanamo underestimate what a powerful a propaganda tool Guantanamo has become for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, despite several Department of Defense studies documenting the propaganda value of detention centers. For example, West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has monitored numerous Al Qaeda references to Guantanamo in its recruitment propaganda materials. Improvements to Guantanamo’s administration of judicial mechanisms will not make its way into Al Qaeda propaganda. Nothing short of closing Guantanamo will remove this arrow from its quiver.
I recognize that closing Guantanamo will not immediately impact terrorist recruiting materials. Only time will make Guantanamo a non-issue to potential terrorist recruits. But, closing the prison is a necessary first step in the propaganda battle.
Closing Guantanamo will have an immediate affect on normalizing relations with our nation’s allies. Our closest allies have expressed directly and in private their desire for the US to close Guantanamo. The war on terror demonstrates that the US relies upon cooperation of our allies to establish stability and security in territories formally or currently controlled by terror organizations. America’s allies are not content on offering unconditional support without input into policy; a collective security requires collaboration and cooperation. The Bush administration scoffed at collaboration. Now our allies look to the incoming administration to demonstratively establish a new phase in America’s strategy in the war on terror, a new phase rooted in common policies. Closing Guantanamo in a necessary step to bringing the US in line with our allies’ covenants to organizations such as the UN Committee Against Torture and the European Parliament.
Countering Al-Qaeda’s propaganda and strengthening our alliances will improve security and stability, which will have real costs savings to the US and allow our nation to reduce the number of deployed soldiers. More importantly, closing Guantanamo will remove the shadow over the true symbol of America, liberty and justice.