What we saw, and Obama should see, at Gitmo

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Guan­tanamo Bay was never meant to be an El­lis Is­land. How­ever, one of the first ex­ec­u­tive or­ders is­sued by Pres­i­dent Obama was to close this fa­cil­ity, likely bring­ing some of th­ese pris­on­ers to United States soil.

Un­for­tu­nately, Mr. Obama is­sued this or­der be­fore he ac­tu­ally had a plan in place to deal with some of the world’s most danger­ous in­di­vid­u­als. Two weeks ago, we trav­eled with five mem­bers of Congress on a bi­par­ti­san con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion trip to Guan­tanamo Bay to see this fa­cil­ity up-close in or­der to de­ter­mine its suit­abil­ity for hous­ing th­ese ter­ror­ists. In re­al­ity, each of us had our own set of be­liefs and pre­con­ceived no­tions about Guan­tanamo Bay. How­ever, what we ac­tu­ally saw ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions and chal­lenged our pre­con­cep­tions.

For in­stance, de­spite al­le­ga­tions and per­cep­tions, en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques such as wa­ter­board­ing or sleep de­pri­va­tion have never occurred at Guan­tanamo. The most se­vere pu­n­ish­ment de­tainees re­ceive is to lose two hours of their man- dated four hours of recre­ational time out­side.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the camps where the de­tainees live are mod­ern, yet con­trolled. They have a li­brary, air con­di­tion­ing, ca­ble tele­vi­sion, video games, world news­pa­pers, soc­cer fields and ex­er­cise fa­cil­i­ties.

Be­yond the ameni­ties of the fa­cil­ity, all the de­tainees have 24-hour ac­cess to med­i­cal care. There is one doc­tor to ev­ery two de­tainees. That is bet­ter ac­cess to health care than many of us have in Amer­ica. More­over, the de­tainees ob­tain very nu­tri­tious meals, with up to 6,000 calo­ries per day if they chose to con­sume all that is of­fered.

There is no dis­put­ing that Guan­tanamo has be­come con­tro­ver­sial. Rea­son­able peo­ple can dis­agree on the no­tion of clos­ing the fa­cil­ity. How­ever, it is es­sen­tial that there is a mapped out and work­able al­ter­na­tive in its place in or­der to keep our coun­try safe from fu­ture ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

By some mea­sures, the pris­on­ers kept at Guan­tanamo Bay con­sti­tute the largest al Qaeda cell in the world with an in­ter­nal op­er­at­ing struc­ture. Just this month, a pris­oner in Gitmo com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter re­ceiv­ing an or­der from a su­pe­rior al Qaeda mem­ber who is also a pris­oner.

Why would we close a mod­ern, func­tion­ing fa­cil­ity such as this when the risk of re­leas­ing th­ese crim­i­nals could ul­ti­mately mean putting our coun­try in great dan­ger?

Ali al-Shihri is not a house­hold name in the United States, but he is some­one we should all know about. Al-Shihri was a de­tainee at the Guan­tanamo Bay de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity — he was re­leased, “re­ha­bil­i­tated” and then re­turned to al Qaeda to en­gage in acts of ter­ror.

In a news story by the New York Times, it was re­ported in a Pen­tagon doc­u­ment that about 1 in 7 of the 534 pris­on­ers al­ready trans­ferred abroad from the de­ten­tion cen­ter are en­gaged in ter­ror­ism or mil­i­tant ac­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Many other world­wide leaders are protest­ing the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to close the fa­cil­ity. Oth­ers, like the Euro­pean Union, have stated they may con­sider tak­ing some of the de­tainees from Guan­tanamo, but with their pol­icy of open travel within the EU they ul­ti­mately de­fer to the in­di­vid­ual coun­tries to de­cide.

Since the an­nounce­ment by the EU, the State Depart­ment has been do­ing some dam­age con­trol af­ter it ap­par­ently for­got to tell the United King­dom it had struck a deal to re­lo­cate some Chi­nese Mus­lim de­tainees to Ber­muda. There seems to be a strong ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­fort to un­load Guan­tanamo in­mates by any means nec­es­sary, even if it means pay­ing off coun­tries. We do not see this as sound al­ter­na­tive pol­icy.

Re­spected colum­nist Charles Krauthammer even stated that it’s a “win-win” for al Qaeda. “If al Qaeda de­feats the United States, you rule the world out of Mecca. If you lose, you end up on a trop­i­cal is­land, Ber­muda shorts, hold­ing a daiquiri in your hand.”

The fact still re­mains, if you bring the de­tainees into this coun­try and put them on trial, then pre­sum­ably they will be given the pro­tec­tions of the Bill of Rights af­forded to you and me.

We be­lieve th­ese de­tainees did not com­mit a sim­ple crime — th­ese are in­di­vid­u­als who com­mit­ted acts of war. Giv­ing them the same rights as the men and women pro­tect­ing our coun­try is lu­di­crous. De­tainees like Khalid Sheik Muham­mad, the mas­ter­mind of the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks on Amer­ica, and Abu Zubay­dah, who per­son­ally trained some of the Sept. 11 hi­jack­ers, are danger­ous, and we should not rush to close this fa­cil­ity with no plan in place.

Even the most lib­eral Democrats agree with this ba­sic premise. House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Chair­man David R. Obey, Wis­con­sin Demo­crat, re­fused to in­clude fund­ing to close Guan­tanamo, say­ing, “When they have a plan, they’re wel­come to come back and talk to us.”

Again, we ask that Mr. Obama take time out of his busy sched­ule to visit Guan­tanamo and de­velop a plan be­fore clos­ing it. We think this is a sen­si­ble re­quest that ev­ery Amer­i­can would ask of him.

Rep. Aaron Schock is an Illi­nois Repub­li­can. Rep. Phil Roe is a Ten­nessee Repub­li­can.

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