During the 2008 presidential election campaign, there was a debate as to whether shutting down Guantanamo Bay was a prudent move for the government. As many people know, our current president, Barack Obama, supported the measure of eradicating the prison, stating that the facility was not only in violation of constitutional law, but also the Geneva Conventions. However, as his first term comes to a close, Guantanamo Bay remains open. While this is a concerning fact, what is equally disturbing is that the American populace seems to have forgotten all about their demands to truly maintain democratic ideals for all people.
In the wake of national security threats, it seems that the United States has to compromise on its lofty principles. The question is, can there be a balance between protecting ourselves and maintaining our legal standard? Or does one inevitable take precedence over the other?
If the standard of living of Guantanamo detainees is examined, along with the reasons they were captured, the equality of our system becomes questionable. In fact, many individuals kept at the detention facility have virtually no chances of having their case examined. According to the US government, there are 169 people still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Of those, 89 aren’t a threat to the United States, but the state has put a block on their release. There are an additional 14 individuals who have a chance at having a hearing. However, there are 46 individuals held at Guantanamo who cannot be tried by the government because there isn’t sufficient evidence to prosecute them, but they also cannot be released because there are considered too dangerous.
The position of the 46 individuals is difficult to justify, but when it comes to national security, it seems worth the risk to hold an innocent man when there’s a chance he could be guilty. The saying that ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’ really holds true when it comes to counter-terrorism. Nevertheless, there have been some historical precedents for the government’s caution. For example, a Yemeni named Hani Al Shulah was released in 2007, telling a review board that if he was freed he was interested in pursuing a university education and becoming a teacher. However, he was found dead after an air strike on Al Qaeda in 2009, allegedly having worked with the extremist preacher Anwar Al Awlaki.
It is difficult to make a decision between the liberties of one versus the security of a multitude. For the most part, the American government seems to be choosing the well-being of its own citizens. While there are individual cases which do in fact see the light of the court room, there is no transparency in these cases because they are conducted in secret for reasons pertaining to national security. Even the rulings which are released contain large sections of blacked out text, making the actual events of the court an enigma to the general public.
The issue of Guantanamo Bay has been placed on the back burner in US society. However, it is an essential one to examine because it affects the very core of American values. It is important that the public demands the continued debate over fair proceedings versus national security and ultimately, the way human beings should be treated.
For more information:
Official White House Statement on the Closure of Guantanamo Bay: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/ClosureOfGuantanamoDetentionFacilities/
New Actions on Guantanamo Bay and Detainee Policy: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/07/new-actions-guantanamo-bay-and-detainee-policy