History may call it the Battle of Guantanamo

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By Jim Flynn

Washington thrives on creating confusion. The Bush and Obama Administrations have thought closing the Guantanamo Detention Camp (Gitmo) a good idea, but neither offered a compelling reason.

Gitmo became necessary because none of our European allies wanted to take a bunch of bad guys, even at our expense. Their self-serving attitude hasn’t changed since World War II, when we had to bring more than 430,000 POWs to the U.S. because our European allies wouldn’t take them then. either. 

Mr. Bush quit the idea of closing Gitmo because he still couldn’t find a place to send the remaining prisoners. Being able to leave the perceived problem for the new guy was a neat bonus. Both presidential candidates had volunteered a pledge to close the camp.

Using borrowed money (as usual) the Bush Administration built a $200 million prison facility at our naval base in Cuba for the purpose of housing several hundred Muslim terrorists, combatants, and hostiles of uncertain status.

We had our doubts when the Bush Administration decided to bunch the captives just 90 miles from our shore. We thought Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean would be a better choice. We have an airbase there, and it’s three thousand miles from everywhere.

On reflection, Mr. Bush made a right decision. The only other practical alternative would have been prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, inconvenient for our interrogators, and subject to likely attempts to set the prisoners free.

With most of their detainees snuggled in at the Gitmo resort, the Bush Administration undertook aggressive interrogations. The methods were harsh, but not life threatening. Most citizens are conflicted about roughing up terrorists and combatants whose culture seldom takes prisoners, and doesn’t hesitate to lop off heads when it has a captive.

The Bush Administration is still selling its favorite mantra: “They kept us safe for eight years after 9/11.”  They did indeed, but we have yet to learn of any specific benefit obtained from the Guantanamo interrogations which contributed to that safety. Of course we could rely on Dick Cheney’s vague assertion: Trust me.

The Bush Administration kept us safe by putting half a million American men at risk in Iraq to establish a major presence near the world’s largest oil supply. Coincidentally.  their presence attracted aggressive combat from al-Qaida.

Until there is evidence to the contrary, we will continue to believe our safety was assured by the persistence and sacrifices of our military in Iraq, not by some brilliant strategy from the stay-at-home patriots in the Bush White House.

At one time there were 775 occupants at Gitmo. More than 500 have been released over years. Around 75 of those released have been identified in hostile activities and terrorist cells in a number of countries.

At this writing. about 240 detainees are still held in Guantanamo. What should be done with them? There seems to be an opinion for every lawyer who wants to represent them.  We think the only intelligent move is to leave them there. Just recently a federal court ruled that some of the combatant detainees could be held at Gitmo indefinitely.

There are several good reasons for not closing Gitmo. First, bringing terrorists and combatants into the U.S. would precipitate years of litigation and expense, with no benefit to the nation.  For some organizations, the Gitmo prisoners are a cause celebre with indefinite potential.

Second, in nation against nation warfare, there is a reasonable expectation that one day hostilities will end and prisoners will be returned to whence they came. None of those rules pertain to terrorists and combatants without uniforms. Some are still detained at Gitmo because their own countries won’t have them.

Third, if we close Gitmo, where will we put the next terrorists apprehended and combatants captured in Afghanistan? Will we spend another $200 million to create a Diego Garcia resort for prisoners of war and bomb builders?

Final question: Why would it cost $85 million to close the Guantanamo Detention Camp? Are fares from Cuba on CIA Airlines that expensive? Will the detainees be moving extensive luggage and personal effects?

The Obama Administration has become an overnight contender of fiscal irresponsibility, likely to surpass the delinquent excesses of the recent Bush Administrtion. If Gitmo Detention Camp is eventually closed, it would seem to us that a coach ticket to anywhere, extra socks and underwear, and a kit of toiletries should suffice. Total cost: $240,000 or a lot less.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.