Politicians, anti-war groups and the mainstream media complain ceaselessly that America should close Guantanamo Bay, and either return the terror suspects being held at the camp to their home countries or put them on trial in civilian courts in the US. More than 400 detainees have indeed been returned to their countries, where they’ve either been tried for offences committed there, kept under some form of supervision or freed without charge.
One such detainee was Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who was repatriated in 2005 and subsequently acquitted of terrorism charges. While some jailbirds try to make the most of their freedom by ‘putting their life back together’, in Iraq last week Ajmi turned that concept spectacularly on its head by blowing himself apart. Ajmi, along with two other Kuwaitis, detonated two explosive-filled vehicles in Mosul, killing themselves and seven other people.
Ajmi is apparently the first former Guantanamo detainee to carry out a suicide bombing in Iraq, but he’s not the first to return to the fight after being released. Last year the Pentagon reported that at least 30 former detainees had been killed or captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan (you can find details about seven of them here). The AFP story about Ajmi puts the number of Gitmo alumnus "confirmed or suspected" of having returned to terrorism at 36.
The UK Guardian reports that Ajmi was captured attempting to cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan in 2001. The US military opposed his release from Guantanamo, claiming that he presented a continuing danger. The case against Ajmi in Kuwait collapsed on a technicality: the court ruled that alleged testimony from Guantanamo was inadmissible because Ajmi hadn't signed it.
The report adds: ‘The involvement of an ex-Guantanamo detainee will make it harder for civil rights lawyers in the US and Britain who have been fighting for the release of the remaining prisoners at the camp complex.’
We should be so lucky. It’s likely to take more than a few dead bodies in Mosul to silence the calls from The New York Times, Human Rights Watch and others for Guantanamo to be closed, and its inmates either freed, regardless of the consequences, or moved to prisons or military bases in the US – and afforded a whole swathe of additional rights in the process, including new opportunities to challenge their detention.
Nobody is pretending that Guantanamo and the military tribunals system is the perfect solution for dealing with 'enemy combatants' captured in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but unfortunately no-one has as yet come up with an alternative that doesn't run the risk of allowing dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of fanatical, trained terrorists to go free. The phrase ‘legal minefield’ has never been so appropriate, although perhaps the minefield metaphor should be updated to include explosively formed penetrators and suicide bombers.
McCain, Obama and Hillary have all pledged to close Guantanamo if they're elected, although, as the LA Times reported recently, none of the three has offered specifics about how they would deal with the suspects being held there. The best McCain could come up with in a recent speech was: "I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control."
The Times story highlights the main stumbling block in the way of closing Guantanamo: the Pentagon wants to retain the ability to detain those individuals it considers most dangerous indefinitely, regardless of whether it has strong evidence against them. But, even were Congress to pass such a law, the anti-war lobby and their lawyers would begin fighting it just as soon as they’d shaken off their hangovers from the ‘End of Gitmo’ party.
Leaving aside the human rights specialists and activist judges, the legal establishment hasn’t been overly helpful, appearing to treat the problem of how to strike a balance between civil liberties and the rights of detainees, and the need to protect the public, as a conundrum to be pondered to the nth degree, rather than a matter of life and death.
Guantanamo, and the wider legal and constitutional issues arising from the War on Terror, have been addressed by some formidable legal minds, including US Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner, whose book Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency is reviewed by the Weekly Standard’s Peter Berkowitz here, and John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who found himself framing much of the Bush administration’s legal response to 9/11 and its aftermath. But the fact that people have time to write books about these issues doesn’t bode well for the prospects of coming up with solutions any time soon.
Meanwhile, for the presidential candidates it’s all about pandering to the perception, certainly held by many in the US and abroad but magnified by politicians and the media, that America’s image somehow needs repairing. Even McCain, who’s steadfast in his support for the Iraq mission, apparently feels compelled to throw the Guantanamo bone to the less-hysterical elements of the anti-war crowd.
For the lawyers and human rights groups who are determined to spring as many detainees from Guantanamo as they possibly can, the motivations are different. While some are no doubt acting out of principle – however naively – others aren't much concerned with the guilt or innocence of those whose release they're battling to secure; for them it's all about embarrassing the US and the Bush administration, and if, every so often, one of those freed detainees happens to blow a few innocent people to pieces, that's a risk worth taking.
The anti-war crowd, and the left in general, are exemplars of political expediency, and have never been overly burdened by the unpleasant consequences of their supremely principled actions. And their efforts are cheered on by a media that takes as much delight in seeing the Bush administration defeated in the courtroom as it does from seeing US forces and their allies frustrated on the battlefield.
The US needs to come up with a watertight legal framework for dealing with the threat from radical Islamists, who often have no national allegiance, and refuse to abide by even the most basic conventions of war, fast. Those who have their reservations, but who aren’t ideologically invested in seeing Bush and the Republicans defeated, should ponder the backlash that would follow if another freed Guantanamo detainee mounted a successful attack closer to home. Last week it was seven dead in Mosul. Next time it could be 50 in London, or 500 in New York.
In the meantime, perhaps some of the shysters and Atticus Finch wannabes who are so desperate to see the inmates of Guantanamo walk might like to meet with the families of those who were murdered by Ajmi last month. They would be able to reassure the bereaved that, while his release proved fatal for their loved ones, at least justice was seen to be done.
Update: I thought of speculating in this post that some in the MSM/anti-war/human rights crowd might try to suggest that Gitmo turned Ajmi into terrorist. But I thought 'Nah, I'm getting paranoid.'
Then, via Ace, I see this…