Guantanamo Bay, also known as Gitmo, is a United States military base located in the southern part of Cuba. When first opened in 1903, it was used by the United States Navy as a coaling station. Once the Cuban Revolution started in 1959, the base was transformed and served as a refuge for Cuban runaways who couldn’t find safety during the war. All of that changed though in 2002 when the war on terror began. Since the start of the war, the base has and is still currently being used to house prisoners of war and suspected terrorists (Fetini).
Ever since Bush’s war on terror began after the 9/11 attacks, individuals have been brought into Guantanamo Bay as “enemy combatants” (Fetini). The issue with holding these detainees is some of them have yet to be tried or found guilty, yet remain in the base without the right of habeas corpus. Without any basic legal rights under United States law, it stirs up an issue of ethics. It’s not ethical to hold certain individuals prisoner without putting them on trial, which has started to raise various social implications about the true morals and values of the United States.
When he entered into office, President Obama proposed to close down Guantanamo Bay. Since his announcement in early 2009, he has urged to close down the base, mostly due to lack of ethics surrounding holding detainees, and thus the social implications reflecting the United States it causes. Despite various options Obama offered for current detainees in terms of trials, release, and transferring, Gitmo currently remains open. In this essay I plan to discuss the various ethical issues surrounding the holding of detainees, the desire of the Obama Administration to close the bay because of the current ethical issues and social implications it holds, as well as explain why the base has yet to close.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a war broke out between the United States and Afghanistan. During the war many individuals were captured, but there weren’t many viable options as to where to put them. President Bush proposed using Guantanamo Bay to, “House those suspected of terrorist activity or having ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban” (Fetini). As ordered by the Bush Administration, Gitmo was now being used to keep highly dangerous criminals, as well as suspected terrorists detained. Detainees were treated like prisoners of war, with military men serving as jurors in court hearings. Bush passed an act in 2006 that, “authorized the use of military tribunals in place of federal courts to try the detainees, and justified the use of some forms of physical coercion during interrogations” (Fetini). With legal rights suspended, these detained were not treated very well according to various testimonies. They had no human rights, and were treated in ways that caused outcry from the United Nations.
Although harsh and unethical, during the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, these methods of interrogations by the United States were seen as acceptable by the government and citizens to try and stop terrorism. Fear stirred within the United States and amongst its citizens, so doing whatever was necessary to stop al-Qaeda and the Taliban was viewed as appropriate, even if it meant torturing detainees to get answers. Despite being against basic human law, the United States government saw keeping detainees without trial as necessary to keep in potential security threats. Allowing these potential terrorists to leave without any repercussions could have led to another potential terrorist attack if these detainees did turn out to be terrorists. Now though the view on them has changed seeing the war is now over and some of these detainees haven’t even been proven guilty of any illegal acts.
The Obama Administration has openly expressed its strong desire to close down facilities at Guantanamo Bay and to deal with remaining detainees appropriately. Obama believes that since the war is now over, Gitmo is, “not necessary to keep America safe” (Fisher). With the war finally coming to a close, the United States doesn’t need to use the detention center as much with less prisoners now being captured, and there being less of a threat to our national security in these areas. Most of the detainees that were being kept at the facility have already been released, with only about 170 detainees left in the detention camp currently (Chesney). The Obama Administration also believes those who have been convicted already can be safely transferred to other camps and maximum strength security facilities with no problem. America currently has prisoners of war in correction facilities in the United States, and nothing has happened to them (ABC News). None of the criminals have escaped or were maltreated, and having them in these facilities as opposed to Guantanamo Bay cuts costs as well. Keeping a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay costs much more money than keeping a criminal in a state penitentiary, and then adding the costs of keeping up the facilities itself (Chesney).
The biggest reason the Obama Administration wants to close Guantanamo Bay is due to the lack of ethics that surrounds holding these detainees. While some individuals held at Gitmo have been convicted and found guilty, many have not. These people are being detained without a hearing or trial, which is against the writ of habeas corpus. President Obama believes that this is unethical, especially pointing out that many of the people that are being held have already been approved to be released (C-Span). So why haven’t they been released? Part of it is due to a long process or getting them cleared and out of Cuba, but mostly it’s because the government and citizens believe these individuals need to remain there regardless due to their threat to our national security. Obama though believes that these people do need to be released because it is not like America to do something so unethical and go against our own legal rights system by not granting detainees the right to a trial and freedom.
Holding detainees does not only bring up ethical issues, but also brings about social implications in regards to United States morals and values. The people held at Guantanamo Bay are considered prisoners, but it is not right for the United States to take away their right to a trial. Without this right, which effectively has been taken away from them, it makes it perfectly legal for the United States to keep those people detained for no real reason other than the fact that they may potentially be a terrorist. Although a detainee may be a terrorist, unless proof is brought forward, they can’t technically be considered one. The ethical issue with holding these detainees is some of the people they believe to be suspected terrorists are actually not and are just being held against their will with no rights. Because there is no evidence to prove the detainees are guilty, the government is afraid to try them and not find them guilty, so these people will continue to remain in Gitmo. Innocent lives will be wasted with no way of ever giving them back. Suspending the detainees the writ of habeas corpus is the main reason why Obama wishes to close down the facility—because he sees it as an unethical for the United States to do without any real proof to prove they really are or related to terrorist groups or activities.
These ethical implications have sparked reactions all around the world. Many people see the United States as the land of the free, but holding these detainees without trial or basic rights has caused people to think otherwise. Treating these detainees so unethically by taking away their rights and in some cases torturing them has caused to people to take a step back and rethink America’s ethics and legal system. Not giving these people the right to habeas corpus and keeping them locked up shows to some that the United States doesn’t truthfully care for rules and are willing to violate their own American law, something they say they cherish. Since the beginning American has believed in the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”, but Gitmo makes this seem inaccurate. Holding these detainees has put forth a negative image on America’s political system, ethics, and culture as a whole. It can be viewed as though it only cares for its own citizens, and those who aren’t don’t get any rights even if they may be innocent.
The question that remains is: with so many negative ethical and social implications, why hasn’t Guantanamo Bay closed yet? The main issue with closing with Gitmo is not shutting down the facility itself, but rather moving and dealing with the detainees (Fisher). There are four different options in regards to dealing with prisoners—trial, military tribunal, placing them in a foreign prison, and releasing them. While these seem like viable options, there are problems with each and some are not feasible. Trials and military tribunals were effectively blocked by Congress when they passed a legislation stopping the government from funding trials for Gitmo detainees (Fisher). Unfortunately without funding, the trials and tribunals can’t take place. Even if these detainees were put on trial and found guilty, Congress barred buying a prison to house them. Without a place to hold the detainees, there is no way for Guantanamo to close unless appropriate facilities are found to transfer them into.
Transferring detainees also poses some problems. “To send the detainees to a foreign country’s prison system, is only legal if the U.S. can be sure that the detainees will not be tortured there” (Fisher). The United States cannot always be certain that a prisoner will be treated fairly and not be tortured by foreign governments. Foreign governments don’t have the same rules and restrictions as the United States does, and some view the criminals as enemies and will torture them if transferred (Chesney). The United States of course does not want to deal with that issue or the ethical and social issues that come with having past convicts tortured, so it is hard for the United States to ensure that won’t happen. It’s one issue to have criminals transferred safely, but making sure they are treated correctly is another tougher problem.
The last issue of releasing detainees is the one that most likely explains why Guantanamo Bay is still open. Both government officials and American citizens are afraid and skeptical about simply releasing those detainees that have been approved to do so. Although deserved, releasing these detainees can be problematic. The first question that stems from releasing detainees that haven’t been proven guilty is what if they are in fact terrorists and America has just released them? Letting a suspected terrorist go free is a threat to United States national security, and this is why the government continues to fight to keep Guantanamo Bay open. Guantanamo Bay has also been described as recruitment for terrorist groups (Chesney) People who have been released have often found themselves back in Guantanamo Bay for the same reasons of being affiliated with terrorist groups. After being held for so long, these detainees can also feel very revengeful and want to enact revenge on America for what it put them through. It’s a very dangerous game the United States is playing, and this debate is at the stem of why Gitmo currently remains opens.
Guantanamo Bay is a very controversial and tough situation for the United States and especially the Obama Administration. If the Administration wants to be completely ethical, it must release the detainees who have not been tried and don’t seem to pose a threat to the United States. But, what if they are actually terrorists, and America’s actions to release them comes back to impact the United States negatively. If the United States decides to keep Guantanamo Bay open like it is now, then it must realize the ethical issue behind doing so. By keeping detainees in the detention camp despite a lack of trial or any solid proof of being a threat to national security, then withholding them from their rights is wrong. It also will continue to have other nations and groups look at the United States as a country that doesn’t in fact have ethics and values like it says that it does, which is something America never wants. The Obama Administration is put in a tough spot with choosing whether or not to close Guantanamo Bay and be ethical, but risk letting a terrorist go free, or keeping the facility open, keeping national threats minimum, but also being seen as an unethical nation.
Chesney, R., Glazier, D., Pearlstein, D., Sulmasy, G., & Mariner, J. (2009). CLOSING GUANTÁNAMO: THE LEGAL AND POLICY ISSUES. (). Washington: American Society of International Law. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/848717665?accountid=9784
“House Debate on Closing Guantanamo Bay.” C-SPAN. C-Span Video Library, 14 June 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. .
Fetini, Alyssa. “Time U.S.” TIME.com. N.p., 12 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. .
Fisher, Max. “Why Hasn’t Obama Closed Guantanamo Bay?” Washington Post. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
“Obama Still Wants to Close Guantanamo Bay Facility.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. .