The Economist on Guantanamo

Maybe the tide is turning:

America is in a hole. The last response of the blowhards and cowards who have put it there is always: “So what would you do: set them free?” Our answer remains, yes. There is clearly a risk that some of them would then commit some act of violence—in Yemen, elsewhere in the Middle East or even in America itself. That risk can be lessened by surveillance. But even if another outrage were to happen, the evil of “Gitmo” has recruited far more people to terrorism than a mere 166. Mr Obama should think about America’s founding principles, take out his pen and end this stain on its history.

I agree 100%.

This isn’t the first time people have pointed out that our politics are creating more terrorists than they’re killing—especially our drone strikes—but I don’t expect this sort of security trade-off analysis from the Economist.

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 5:16 AM72 Comments


Christian May 9, 2013 5:41 AM

Even if Politics and drone killings would create less terrorists than they killed. This doesn’t make it right! Just because the threat analysis works out, doesn’t make it correct or morally accceptable. Otherwise USA would still have slavery as it may be economically viable. You come in this case to the right conclusion (ending Gitmo) but the reasoning why to do it seems unsound.

OnTheWaterfront May 9, 2013 6:12 AM

Now, if only our elected officials could come to the same conclusion and be willing to admit it publicly.

frustrated and sad May 9, 2013 6:17 AM

When the US started its convulsion of violent revenge after 9/11, I remember seeing anti-war signs: “We’re making enemies faster than we can kill them.” True then, and still true today.

MKE May 9, 2013 6:30 AM

Short of a nuke, Obama and Keynesian economic policies at the Federal Reserve are doing more damage to the US than terrorists could hope to do.

Vles May 9, 2013 6:37 AM

I’ve read some of the diplo cables that were leaked to come to an understanding of the many requests issued to the US for help.

Especially the Secret/NoForn’s at are full of goodies.

I find it interesting to hear about US foreign policies making enemies faster than they can kill in countries x,y,z on the one hand and on the other hand read about various requests for help (assitance, interference) from the US in the same countries…

Dilbert May 9, 2013 6:47 AM

Bruce, I have to disagree with you on this one. We don’t simply “set terrorists free” because others might fight in their cause. I do think we should put them on trial instead of holding them indefinitely. I’m really surprised by this argument from you – it sounds more like something Piers Morgan would propose.

Gordon S May 9, 2013 6:57 AM

If there was actually any solid evidence against any of the prisoners then surely they would have gone to trial already.

The point is that in the absence of any evidence, they should be released.

Of course, those innocent before they went in are likely to harbour some serious grudges upon release – I know I would!

Adam May 9, 2013 7:15 AM

I expect these people’s value as terrorists was blown the minute the US obtained fingerprints, photos, DNA swabs, retina scans, and a full and complete biography of them under interrogation. No terrorist organisation would want anything to do with them. They might be informers and even if they weren’t they’d be a constant liability.

And if they were in any doubt of their future acts, I’m sure intelligence services could secretly slip them something which permanently befuddled them before setting them loose.

Carlo Graziani May 9, 2013 7:17 AM

I agree entirely with Christian — couching the worth of Guantanamo in terms of terrrorists created vs. terrorists neutralized entirely misses the core issue (although it is what you’d expect of the Economist, I guess).

However, I also believe that condemning indefinite detention as morally unacceptable still doesn’t get to the core issue.

To me, the point is that weakening due process for any category of suspects — including terrorists — imperils all of us. Due process of law is not a formality to be dispensed with when inconvenient: It is an indispensable limitation on the power of government, one that protects all citizens — not merely criminals — from the terrifying things that governments are capable of when provoked. It is particularly precious and important given the powers of surveillance and coercion that modern technologies and law-enforcement/prosecution tactics make possible.

It is simply not possible to exclude some category of persons from those protections without endangering all citizens. We have had a practical demonstration of how far down that slippery slope we are already, with the depraved calls from members of Congress to place the Boston bomber — a US citizen, who committed a felony on US soil — beyond the reach of the courts by classifying him as an “enemy combatant”. And we also have a recent (although hardly unique) example of the kind of lazy mistakes that law enforcement can make, in the original arrest in the ricin letter case. The combination of those — common — investigation errors with the ability to put a suspect beyond the reach of the court system by an administrative decision should terrify every citizen.

So far from endangering us, setting free any Guantanamo prisoner who cannot be successfully prosecuted makes us safer. It sends a critical message to the people we trust to wield the enormous power of police and prosecution, that they had better be damn sure of their case before they damage some citizen’s life. It prevents them from extending the reach of the “terrorist exception” to broader categories of criminals (think of how the scope of the RICO law was expanded — these powers always expand, they never recede). It keeps them from erecting barriers against outside critical review of their work for the sake of protecting their mistakes from the light of day. It guards against the intrinsic corruption of unlimited power. We give that up, we might as well bag the Democracy thing altogether.

Michael May 9, 2013 7:23 AM

I worked in the camps at GTMO for a little over a year. I worked with the interrogation teams. Even while there, working to untangle what was known and not known about these people, I knew the whole concept was wrong. I was there, partially, to be a witness to history. I believed, and still do, that something like GTMO will never (and should never) happen again in my lifetime.

There are a few people there who are extremely dangerous. They should be put on trial and, if found guilty, imprisoned. Many others, most of whom have hopefully already been released, were victims of circumstance and guilty of nothing.

The time to close GTMO is long overdue.

Dirk Praet May 9, 2013 7:40 AM

Mr Obama should think about America’s founding principles, take out his pen and end this stain on its history.

There’s more things Mr. Obama should think about. There is for example the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that was signed by the US in 1977 and ratified in 1992. Detaining people for 10+ years without trial or even charges is in complete violation of the spirit of habeas corpus (or “The Great Writ”), a fundamental legal principle in many civilised and democratic countries.

Contrary to Europe, in the US it can be suspended, which for most – if not all – Gitmo detainees was the case and still is. The only thing I can think of that comes anywhere close to this practice is the Soviet era gulags. It’s an aberration of justice and a total and utter disgrace for nation that calls itself a country under the rule of law.

Jens May 9, 2013 7:40 AM

The point of the article is not the economic weighting; this is only used as an instrument. The article argues with US american values and founding principles. In the end it doesn’t matter why exactly the camp was closed.

I fear that with a possible closing of Guantanamo the whole issue will slip out of focus. This camp is a good focus point – it is not the torturing there that is the problem, but that arbitrary torturing and killing is a mean of US politics and the only -completely ridiculous- restriction is made for US citizens. When you are a torturing country it doesn’t matter the least if you are “only” torturing citizens of other countries or your own, it doesn’t matter if you torture them on your own soil or on an island in the Indian ocean, it doesn’t matter if you invent new words outside of any national or international context for your enemies to justify mistreatment. You are just not on the good side anymore. Guantanamo is still a good symbol for this, and additionally shows the US government is aware of this and tries to circumvent legal responsibility by legal tricks. I don’t think a closing of the camp will do anything helpful unless the fundamental problem is solved.

Honestly, I don’t see any approach there. And that makes me shiver.

Mike B May 9, 2013 7:47 AM

Re Drone strikes it doesn’t matter how many people it “recruits” because without leadership and organization any sort of resistance will be sporadic and ineffectual. A targeted killing campaign has high return on investment in terms of foiling the types of attacks that matter.

DV Henkel-Wallace May 9, 2013 7:49 AM

Metaresponse: I am not surprised that the Economist in particular would take this position (just disappointed that they didn’t do so sooner). They have taken the same cost/benefit analysis to drug legalization (pro), the monarchy (contra) and even in their founding cause 170 year ago, the corn laws.

David May 9, 2013 7:57 AM

We have two current situations in the United States of America which point to serious problems in the way our country is governed. First, when laws are passed that explicitly exempt the government from needing to comply with those laws, that is a serious problem. It eventually leads to a government that usurps power from the people. Second, a government that suspends or ignores laws when it is inconvenient to follow the law means it is not a government of law. The American people have been too complacent with government excess, in some small part because we are all recipients of some favorable consequence of such actions, but mostly because we have all become sheep, unwilling to give up any of our comfortable lifestyle for the greater good of the country.

paul May 9, 2013 7:58 AM

Even if this were about setting terrorists free, rather than about setting free a large number of non-terrorists and a small number of actual terrorist whom congress has decreed shall not be tried for their crimes, there’s plenty of precedent for that. Governments do prisoner exchanges all the time. And if The Economist is right, this one has the advantage that we don’t even have to negotiate with anyone to do it.

And The Economist doesn’t even get into the monetary and moral cost of running thousands of young adults who want to serve their country through a mill of dehumanizing behavior. It’s too late for most of the officers, but the enlisted folk could still be saved.

atk May 9, 2013 8:02 AM

@Dilbert: More than half of the prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared. By the very government imprisoning them.

Guantanamo is an embarrassment. I wish we would vote out the weak hearted politicians that have chosen not to close it and try them for violations of human rights.

Spoken as a US citizen.

comsec May 9, 2013 8:42 AM

Most of the prisoners in gitmo arent even terrorists. They were cleared a decade ago but since no country will take them back they are still there.

The ones that are suspected terrorists can never have a trial because any judge would throw out all confessions due to torture. So now they are just bribing prisoners into guilty pleas which are meaningless show trials.

parser May 9, 2013 8:42 AM

I forgot the analyst who pointed this out, but a notable observation is how the framing of the issue as being a “war on terror” has also been counter productive, and very likely being extremely helpful to the recruitment efforts of the criminals and their sympathizers.

Many critics early on argued for those charged to be dealt with using domestic and international criminal law frameworks, but “war on terror” had the major benefit of whipping up hysteria for other purposes, including ensuring that war and security industries get their more than their share of the investment into “protecting” America.

999999999 May 9, 2013 8:58 AM

Agree 90%
Close them all. Put everyone on trial. If found not guilty, set them free. If found guilty, administer punishment.
If they are a danger: collect evidence sufficient for conviction.

KJH May 9, 2013 9:17 AM

Is everyone overlooking the fact that the vast majority have no place to go? Few if any countries will allow them to return to their homeland, and no country will take the ones that are truly “bad.” I propose that we send them on a ship loaded with food (as a gift) to North Korea!

paul May 9, 2013 9:34 AM

KJH: We are paying something like $150M a year to house 166 prisoners, of whom a tiny fraction are evildoers.

We could buy each one of the non-evil ones their own private island and personal staff for less than that, instead of keeping them in small, stifling cages.

Gary Johnson May 9, 2013 9:36 AM

I’d send them on a little copter ride…one way over the caribean.he heh!

comsec May 9, 2013 10:11 AM

They did send them to islands. Remember all the Chinese Uyghurs that had nowhere to go and were resettled?

mishehu May 9, 2013 11:27 AM

I unfortunately am very cynical about this issue, and I scarcely expect any politician to end a very convenient “loophole” in the system. It’s almost like expecting them to offer up a substantial pay cut when everybody else is suffering from a huge recession, or to end their special health care system, or even to end the nonsense of the TSA… Let’s not forget also that the NDAA was signed by the same President Obama…

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons May 9, 2013 12:21 PM

There is little here to disagree with, the statement that the people of the U.S. are sheep though is inaccurate.

From the moment Donald Rumsfeld and the neo-conservative cabal of the U.S. started down the road of no return (the future for democracy in the United States will require more than electing new representatives) having shocked and awed its own people, the citizenry reacted by cowering under their beds. Not only is the political class guilty of treason, but the citizens of the United States are guilty of dissertion.

From where I stand, somewhere in the far reaches of California, the tragedy that is our folly (namely the “War on Terror”) has to be the largest breach in civil society since the dawn of time. Even Hitler, whom clearly stated by manifesto, was more
transparent about authoritirian rule then our current crypto-facist government. So much damage has been done to the psychie that unwrapping this socio-political turd will be decades if not centuries and there is no telling what the fallout from this will actually be…unlike a nuclear bomb, with a known yield, debris field, and residual radio-active fallout…a farcial war on an idea (terrorism) can never be won. We, all of us, are already losers. What could humanity accomplish in advance as opposed to retreat…

david May 9, 2013 1:40 PM

Strange logic Bruce:

  1. Release them from Gitmo as they are largely harmless people now.
  2. Gitmo creates radicals (unproven BTW – has you actually talked to someone who only became a terrorist because of Gitmo?)

So someone observing Gitmo will become a dangerous radical, but someone actually experiencing Gitmo is likely harmless?

If Gitmo is really a radicalizing influence, surely the people imprisoned in it would be the most dangerous radicals by now?

Kevin Ballard May 9, 2013 2:03 PM

Bruce, how do you plan on setting them free? I’m all for it, but from what I’ve read elsewhere, we pretty much can’t, because nobody will take them. Their own countries don’t want them back, and the US certainly doesn’t want to let them immigrate.

Jeff May 9, 2013 2:16 PM

This is left-wing drivel and typical of people who do not fear reprisal because you sleep comfortable knowing someone else will take the bullet instead of you. Treating terrorists as though they are card-carrying members of the ACLU instead of people bent on destroying our way of life is unbelievably careless. Would you be so cavalier with a captured Nazis? No. As for the military tribunals like the Nuremberg Trials, those where scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2009 until this current administration stopped them. Due process was denied. Start them up again and you will get the piece of paper you so desperately need to justify their imprisonment. The fact that they killed American soldiers and would otherwise slaughter everyone on this blog apparently isn’t good enough.

Stratego May 9, 2013 2:39 PM


It is clear that you know nothing about what is really going on. It’s troubling, because a majority of the American public is just as pitifully ignorant as you are.

As a person who took an oath several times to the constitution and carried a rifle for the United States. I will tell you that without a doubt that keeping people in Guantanamo makes lives of Americans become ever more dangerous. Chalmers Johnson a 27 year veteran of the CIA echoed that fact in his book “Blowback”, as did another 20+ year veteran of CIA Ray McGovern, plus many others.

Secondly, these are not Nazis. Most of them were innocent citizens picked up on a bounty by rogue Northern Alliance members, or other “allies” of the US, because they had an old grudge against them. 90% in fact, have been cleared of any and all wrongdoing or charges. They are innocent.

Speaking of Nazis; had the majority of US politicians and leaders of the last 30 years been put to the same standard test for guilt as was used during the Nuremberg trials, 70% would have met a fate at the end of a rope for crimes against humanity, and treason.

Please educate yourself.

Dale May 9, 2013 2:40 PM

No one will take them? All, some , or none of the 166? I suspect the answer isn’t none.

Especially if we do not restrict which locations (Gaza, Iran, etc).

Stratego May 9, 2013 2:48 PM

It’s kind of like saying: “I just found a hundred dollar bill in the middle of the street. I asked everyone if it was theirs, but nobody wanted it.” I’m not buying it. Who told you that nobody wanted them back??? Wouldn’t happen to be the state department aye? hmm. Interesting.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons May 9, 2013 4:22 PM


You endanger not only yourself with such arrogance and ignorance but are in direct opposition to the values that the framers of this country (put their homes, lives, and reputation on line) to repel oppression from the king of England.

I understand your loyalty to the cause you believe is an attack on our way of life…but answering it by betraying the values that are the basis for it is not the way to act. If you have something constructive to contribute, such as stating why the U.S. governments actions are inconsequential or irrelevant beyond our borders. Have you had the opportunity to travel the world and talk to others about how they perceive the United States? Or are you convince of the United State’s supremacy in the world?

You are confident in your “authoritarian” position. You believe in the righteous of the cause–the neo-muslim facists are attacking us…let’s do anything and everything we can…this is how authoritarianism works. It ignores others and only listens to its own voice. Anyone who disagrees with you is a communist…probably buys Chinese communist propaganda (or is that products). Good damn commie lovers!!!

Your way of thinking is tired (if it is even thinking) and should be answered appropriately. I doubt you realize you are part of the problem–not the solution. You are either we us, or against us. Binary thinking is fine for inanimate objects, consider yourself in good company.

Carpe May 9, 2013 4:25 PM

What it really comes down to is that physical security in the sense the most people think of it is not anywhere close to the minds of the people in the powergame. The security of the empire is what is being sought, and the middle east just happens to be the strategic location of importance as the effects of globalization grow. I am an Iraq combat vet who spent a lot of time trying to figure this out, and my conclusion is that the primary goal is presence in the area (Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kazakstan, etc) so that we can effect our policy through subversion, overthrow, or war if need be in order to control access to natural resources.

This is also why we will continue to see an increase in violence in Africa… we can’t have the Chinese feeling too safe.

In essence, the empire has gone into self-preservation mode. It has come to the conclusion that the only way to maintain itself is to hold other entities down. Security is just the line of bs sold to the idiots in DC and the populace to get them to go along.

George May 9, 2013 4:27 PM

Don’t forget the original purpose of Guantanamo, as a staging ground for putting the “Unitary Executive” ideology into practice. That ideology holds that the War Power gives the Executive Branch unlimited authority to do whatever it deems necessary to protect the Homeland, without regard to any constitutional or legal constraints.

Cheney and Rumsfeld set up a detention facility outside of any legal jurisdiction, where the whims of the Unitary Executive would be the only law. Then they gave themselves the power to declare anyone they wanted an “enemy combatant.” Persons so designated could be spirited away to Guantanamo, stripped of all rights including any ability to challenge the designation, and indefinitely detained without a trial or even formal charges.

Torture was an essential part of the process. Though justified on the grounds of obtaining “intelligence,” the real purpose was to establish that the Unitary Executive had authority to nullify laws and international conventions whenever it decided it needed to. In other words, the main value of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” was to firmly place the Unitary Executive above the law. The Bush administration could, of course, justify everything on the grounds of “National Security.”

So indeed, Guantanamo is an offense to anyone who believes that the United States is governed by the rule of law. But it’s an intentional offense committed by leaders who asserted they could unilaterally suspend the rule of law at their sole discretion during Wartime. And the War on Terror they declared was, by definition, perpetual. I don’t know if Cheney and company had plans to expand their law-free zone beyond Guantanamo and the other detention facilities. But they had successfully created a gulag that could serve as a model.

Carpe May 9, 2013 4:30 PM

Forgot something else I wanted to add.

Increasingly the shadow players as I call them. (the ones who have been in the game for multiple presidencies, usually advisers or strategic analysts) are saying that it never was about terrorism.

What it will boil down to is a tri-power world. The West, China, and Russia. I have in the past called it the neo cold war.

Riley May 9, 2013 5:27 PM

It’s fascinating that the Economist has gotten to this point insofar as the newspaper (the term it prefers over magazine) avidly encouraged the U.S. to invade Iraq.

As for “freeing terrorists”, I simply can’t buy into the notional terrorist threat.

For about 35 years, the U.S. has spent billions upon billions of dollars on a “war” against drugs. For at least 25 years the U.S. has spent a few billions “cracking down” on illegal immigrants. Today illegal drugs and undocumented workers are easy to find it literally every city in the U.S.

Are we then to believe that although the U.S. has failed to interdict drugs dealers and uneducated illegal immigrants, it has been successfully interdicting “professional” terrorists willing to die to carry out their missions? To borrow a phrase from a series of children’s books, what’s wrong with that picture?

The answer of course is that it’s about money, and lots of it. When the Cold War ended, so too did the ability to use the pretense of containing Communism to justify open-ended defense spending and the meddling in the economies and politics of smaller nations too powerless to resist. Some new imaginary threat was needed and the Bush administration was all too eager to put that imaginary threat into place — “terrorism”.

And voila, we once again have open-ended “defense” spending and a pretense for meddling in the economies and politics of nations too weak to resist. Worked out well, didn’t it?

So-called 9/11 was spectacular, the but very method of delivery underscored the lack of a logistics capability. A handful of zealots got past what is now clearly understood to have been non-existent airport security, then used bits of sharp metal to hijack civilian airliners and crash them into a couple of symbolic structures. So much for an “army” of organized terrorists.

Sure there are lots of people in Guantanamo who despise U.S. foreign policy. Big deal — even many of our so-called allies despise U.S. foreign policy. The biggest problem with closing Guantanamo is that the world at large will learn what actually happened behind its walls. It will take a VERY long time, if ever, before the U.S. can ever again lecture other nations about the rule of law and human rights after that information comes out…

Dirk Praet May 9, 2013 8:25 PM

@ Jeff

The fact that they killed American soldiers and would otherwise slaughter everyone on this blog apparently isn’t good enough.

Please get your facts right. The grand total of current and former Guantanamo inmates is estimated at about 760. According to a 2002 CIA report: “a substantial number of the detainees appear to be either low-level militants . . . or simply innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

When president Obama took office in January 2009, the prison held 245 terror suspects. By May 2012, that number had dropped to 169 after the administration negotiated repatriation deals with several countries. in April 2013, 166 inmates remained at Guantanamo.

About 7 people have been tried and convicted. 5 more terror suspects are to be tried by military tribunal. An interagency task force identified 36 detainees who are the subject of active investigations and could be tried in civil or military courts. 48 of the remaining detainees were classified as being too dangerous to release but cannot be taken to trial. They are being indefinitely detained.

About 85 detainees – i.e. half of what remains – have reportedly been cleared for release. They remain at the facility because of restrictions imposed by Congress and also concerns of possible mistreatment if they are sent back to their home countries. [Source: BBC News April 30th 2013 ; Center for Constitutional Rights]

The way I see it, Mr. Obama is facing an impossible conundrum to the point that it has become a case of “POTUS non potest” (Latin for “The president cannot”)

1) Congressional opposition is making it impossible to transfer inmates to maximum security American prisons and try some of them in the US civilian system. Congress actually cut off funding for the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to the mainland. One could argue that such actions constitute obstruction of justice.

2) Several dozens classified too dangerous to release cannot be tried because information obtained during waterboarding (or other forms of torture/coercion) is no longer permitted as evidence. The Obama administration has altered the rules of military commissions so that any coerced confession valid under the Bush administration now is no longer admissible.

3) Sending back the 50-60 cleared inmates fearing reprisals upon return in their home country may violate the principle of non-refoulement in international law. There are several documented cases of Libyan, Russian and Tunesian inmates who got an all but friendly home-coming reception. As there is no way the US is going to grant them asylum, they’re simply trapped at Gitmo unless some other country wants them. I can imagine there is little enthusiasm in any country to welcome folks scarred for life and that has nothing to do with the problem anyway.

4) Pushing a Guantanamo closure agenda is guaranteed to meet steep resistance by Congressional republicans supported by many Americans as poorly informed as yourself, and which will weaken his position in negociations that are of much more importance to him than the fate of about 100 wrongfully detained foreigners. (eg. health care, budget, gun legislation)

As a result of this stalemate, about 100 inmates are currently on a hunger strike, and of which several are being force-fed. It’s probably only a matter of time before one or more will succomb, giving rise to even more outrage and hatred against the US in muslim communities all over the world. And over this particular issue, you can hardly even blame them.

erica May 9, 2013 8:36 PM

@Kevin Ballard .. The only reason these innocent people are under US jurisdiction is that the US sought them out and brought them into its jurisdiction.

The fact that there never was any evidence of these people committing offenses against the US is entirely the US’ problem to resolve. (The US government may, for example, seek civil compensation for its costs if it can show in an international court that it was deliberately defrauded by the bounty hunters who, in some cases, originally detained the innocent people).

But the eyes of the world are on how the US will solve a problem it created. A problem involving a huddled mass yearning to breathe free.

Solve the problem well, and the US may even make a few friends out there.

Daniel May 9, 2013 8:51 PM

Islamic extremists don’t attack the US because of Gitmo. They attack us because they hate the West. Take away Gitmo, they still want the Caliphate. Bruce is a smart guy. I’m shocked by his ignorance here.

John May 9, 2013 9:04 PM

@jeff – very good post. Most of the commenters obviously have not seen the movie Obsession.

atk May 9, 2013 10:50 PM

@john: yes, because we should base our opinions on fiction, not fact. Please read Dirk Praet’s post.

Wael May 10, 2013 1:13 AM

@ Daniel

Islamic extremists don’t attack the US because of Gitmo…

This is just about the only correct statement you made.

I’m shocked by his ignorance …

And the rest of your sentences are ignorant enough to shock an electric eel.

George Orwell May 10, 2013 1:49 AM

“”” our politics are creating more terrorists than they’re killing “””

They’re working exactly as intended.

As long as the war is endless it doesn’t matter much whether you’re fighting Eastasia, Eurasia or ‘terror’.

PrometheeFeu May 10, 2013 2:05 AM

That is exactly the answer that needs to be opposed to Obama supporters who say he wants to close Guantanamo but is prevented from doing so by Congress. That is simply a lie. He cannot move the prisoners to the United States. But he could order that the doors to the prison be opened.

Clive Robinson May 10, 2013 2:40 AM

Without wishing to derail the thred on elephant in the room with Gitmo is that it can be seen as the tip of a more general problem with the US judicial system.

It is now fairly well known that within the US the arrest detention intimidation false confessions and false statments made by others against a defendent, rigged identification parades, with holding of evidence etc occurs to levels that cannot be accounted for as accidental or abberant behaviour of a few bad apples.

After conviction the prisonners are then entered into an ever growing commercial jail system where inmates are considered not as people who (might) need rehabilitation but as sources of profitable income.

Whilst this is not unique to the US (the UK has it’s own claims to infamy in this area) it is still a blight on US political claims.

Now on the assumption POTUS does solve the Gitmo problem, in the process he may well be opening the door to the Ageian Stables on the US justice system.

As has been noted in many other places one of the biggest causes for the break down on Gitmo prisoners is the US Dept of Justice seaking to prevent the detainies obtaining justice against the US for what are crimes against them commited in part by the DoJ.

Thus the US Gov is seaking to prevent it’s self from being found wanting in any part of it’s judicial system because it knows that the chances are high that once the scab starts to lift the whole festering sore will disgorge thus necessitating a clean up which would adversly effect many vested interests.

Wesley Parish May 10, 2013 5:13 AM

Thankfully the sane comments outnumber the paranoid ones.

Item One: the US, in creating this extra-legal prison, broke its legal system. And I might point out that this was one of the exact causes claimed in the Declaration of Independence for the establishment of a independent polity, the United States of America – that the British Crown had broken the British constitution and legal system in its actions, and therefore it was ripe for overthrow.

Item Two: if you’re seriously paranoid, you generally need a prolonged course of medication and assistance, not weapons of mass destruction to carry out a grudge against nearly a fifth of the human race. Jeff and the other paranoid individual can therefore be discounted summarily.

Item Three: Doris Lessing in Canopus in Argos: Archives, got in right when in her final novel in the series, The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire, she had a constitutional convention called in one of the worlds in the story, the object of which was to find out who the hell they were, so they could decide what to do about it. I think the US could well do some such thing, since with Gitmo and the “War on Terror” and the incessant propaganda intended to teach you to hate the Arabs, the Muslims, whatnot, you clearly don’t know who the hell you are.

Socrates May 10, 2013 5:26 AM

It’s sad to see a once great nation becoming destroyed by its own policies. The seeds of destruction are always found within the organism.

Dirk Praet May 10, 2013 5:39 AM

@ PrometheeFeu

But he could order that the doors to the prison be opened.

Guantanamo is a 117 square kilometer US base at Guantanamo Bay in the south of Cuba. The long-term lease of Guantánamo Bay by the US (for about 4,000 euro a year) was established by the 1902 Platt Amendment and has been strongly denounced since Castro rose to power as a violation of article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which declares a treaty void if procured by the threat or use of force.

Now imagine Obama pushing the envelope and closing Gitmo. Where do the cleared inmates go ? Do they settle outside the naval base and by what means ? Or do they try to reach the Cuban border where no doubt they will be stopped and prohibited from entering the country. And what about those set for trial or impossible to take to trial ? Bring them to the US against the will of Congress and risk lots of trials turning to sh*t because in establishing Gitmo and by the treatment of inmates the US broke its own laws, causing a gigantic backlash for which nobody wants to take the fall ?

Not gonna happen anytime soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised that many folks in the USG/DoJ are awaiting the outcome of the legal procedings against one Bradley Manning before even considering doing so. Anyone familiar with that case knows that the USG/DoJ have been going through great lengths to create a context in which Pfc. Manning can be successfully tried and convicted by depriving his defense of access to vital information, witnesses and other rights and resources under the now common “national security” argumentation.

@ Daniel, @ Wael

Islamic extremists don’t attack the US because of Gitmo.

Which may soon change when the first hungerstrikers start dying. Do not underestimate the power of innocent martyrs. Even early Christians in Rome had figured that out.

Bruce Schneier May 10, 2013 5:47 AM

“Even if Politics and drone killings would create less terrorists than they killed. This doesn’t make it right! Just because the threat analysis works out, doesn’t make it correct or morally accceptable. Otherwise USA would still have slavery as it may be economically viable. You come in this case to the right conclusion (ending Gitmo) but the reasoning why to do it seems unsound.”

You misunderstand the reasoning in the essay, and my agreement with it. The essay is about the inherent immorality of it all. That bit I quoted was a response to “the last response of the blowhards and cowards.”

AtomBoy May 10, 2013 7:44 AM

I have to agree with the posters that point out gitmo is just one small part of a very, very large problem.

I have a hard time getting worked up about it when I am very well aware of how rotten the prison systems are.

Gitmo is a PR problem and it should be solved, regardless of the difficulties. It is a step of corruption that does stand clearly as such before the entire world.

Very few posters argued throw ins such as “they are all guilty”. They are not all guilty and even if they were no one can prove that.

That kind of thing does matter. The US has a lot of power entrusted to it, and if it does not handle that power responsibly it will be removed from them. That statement is a nutshell explanation for why civilizations fall.

People who think there is no power higher then the US are willfully ignorant and do not deserve to be listened to.

Gitmo is also about illegal detaining of low level soldiers. Because of those who are “guilty”, they are just low level soldiers. This is not the threat to the US. The threat is those who fund and have the resources to train such soldiers.

I agree with a number of the statements poster “Riley” made, except that 9/11 was just a piece of luck by a few low level soldiers who had no resistance.

This is not true. The 9/11 soldiers were highly trained individuals who had a full system operating behind them. The entire system was very professional, and what they pulled off was very professional.

They got here, they stayed underground and undercover. They had the training to do such things as act out of character by going to titty bars. They had a well worked out system of communication and money transfer. And they had a seamless military plan of action which operated without almost a hitch not because of luck but because of training.

The US has a very, very minor threat of isolated terrorists working on their own.

They have a very serious threat of nation based actors working on behalf of their nation.

Clive Robinson May 10, 2013 8:03 AM

@ Mosses,

Problem is that they’re not innocent

No the problem is the US Govenment under the influance of those behind GWB “assumed them guilty” and forgot due process etc.

Now because of this if there was evidence that could have been presented in a civilian judicial court to indicate possible guilt, it is so contaminated that it would in all probability get thrown out.

Worse for the US Gov they have found that by far the majority were inocent by any acceptable measure, a few more were little more than rabble rousers. The US Gov aranged in many cases to have these innocent individuals kiddnaped (a Federal Offence) and are thus now liable under US and International law for that as a minimum, then there is “illegal detention” oh and various offences under International Treaty that makes various senior individuals then in the White House etc guilty of a fairly extensive listt of War Crimes.

The US via the DoJ amongst others are trying to work things such that those illegaly detained for many years cannot get a legal comeback against the US Gov for punative damages that would probably end up costing way way more than detaining them till they all die of (supposadly) natural causes.

The US people tend to forget that whilst “cow boys” might make colourfull figures, and have “quick draw” soloutions to problems. In reality outside of the “saturday morning flicks” many were thugs throwing their weight around by fear and intimidation. So Cowboys are not a lot of use for very much else, which is one of the reasons laws were brought in and they were driven off westwards virtualy into oblivion. Unfortunatly the mess Cowboys leave behind generaly takes generations to sort out, so it begs the question as to why the US keep them alive by voting them into public office…

AtomBoy May 10, 2013 8:52 AM


We are deeply concerned about people in very remote countries who dislike the US and may talk in private about that. :/

Contrast that with Iran or North Korea who publicly swear America should be wiped off the map. And have the resources to do something about it.

Autolykos May 10, 2013 9:50 AM

They have a very serious threat of nation based actors working on behalf of their nation.
Why, then was there never an attack by nation based actors on the US (well, since Pearl Harbor, at least)? And don’t start with “but Bush said”. Everyone outside the US (and most inside, too) know that was a complete fabrication.

Stratego May 10, 2013 10:33 AM

Bruce makes again an awesome point about morality. The United States Republic, or what is left of it, is based on the rule of law. A rule of law that protects even our worst enemies with rights, due process, and unbiased justice.

The founding fathers recognized the need morally, and governmentally to treat even our worst enemies with fair due process of law. The moment you step away from that ideal, you start down the steep cliff of totalitarianism. The US stepped off that cliff a very, very long time ago.

The founding of this republic and the preservation, or return to liberty requires that the most horrible monsters must be treated with the same benefits and rights in order to preserve the rest.

Extrajudicial killings, kangaroo courts, and drone strikes of civilians create a monster, and that monster always turns back to attack the general population.


North Korea is not a threat to the US. They are a target of US proxy war with China.

Iran is not a threat to the US, and they haven’t invaded anybody since the time of the Persian empire. Sorry to tell you, they don’t want to “wipe the US off the map”. They want American and Israeli foreign policy to stop targeting them with warfare. Blockades are an act of war. Killing civilians engineers are an act of war, and a war crime. They want us to leave them alone.

Have you ever read the now declassified story of Mosadek? Freely elected president of Iran that we injected the CIA to destabilize and usurp the government, from which we installed a puppet president, the Shah at the behest of British Petroleum, that instituted secret police that snatched innocent people off the street and murdered them???? Nice guy. What would you think?

To all of you people, please stop buying the media line. It’s propoganda to make you scared of a fictitious boogey man.

Think critically.

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the US public believes is false” – William J. Casey 1981 – Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

Ever heard of Operation Mockingbird:

Carpe May 10, 2013 10:33 AM


Maybe I’m not understanding you, but if you are claiming (by asking) there was never an attack by nation based actors in the US. There us much evidence that Pakistan and SA were involved in 9/11 (and that’s just a start.) Beyond that, what attacks of a statistically significant nature have come out of the ad-hoc self-radicalizers? The FBI has been behind almost ever single one…

shunnn! May 10, 2013 10:52 AM

Bruce, or whoever it may concern,

Could you please elaborate on the criteria that you require for posting on a subject, rules, or why comments are deleted.

I’d like to be respectful of your site and remain on topic, but it’s not at all clear to me what your rules are.

Bob Robertson May 10, 2013 12:36 PM

Bruce, “we” need to stop saying “we”. “We” do not run the prison camps, “we” do not bomb people with drones.

The government of the Empire of the United States does that, and the sooner people realize that they are an evil, occupying army, the sooner the real “we”, the victims of this empire, can stop feeding THEM.

Clive Robinson May 10, 2013 1:14 PM

@ AtomBoy,

We are deeply concerned about people in very remote countries who dislike the US and may talk in private about that. :/

What about in very close countries such as Canada, or (supposadly) politicaly close countries such as the UK?

The simple fact is in most parts of the world Americans are thought of in one of two ways “they should get out more” (by those who have not met them) and “why cann’t they go somewhere else not here” (by those that have met them). It applies equaly to civilians and military, as for US politicians, it’s probably best not to ask…

There is a sort of joke in Thialand about it,

There is Thailand for the American tourists,
There is Thailand for the other tourists and Americans that want “The real Thailand”.
And then there is Thailand for those who ask politely.

The first refers to the “Americanised” parts of Bangkok with the burger bars strip joints and other “off credit card spending” places. Basicaly the parts which cater for the less plesent of human activities. The second refers to the Western Hotels and their tourist trips to various temples and other places that pander to the tourist myths of Thailand, it’s something that nearly all countries that have a significant tourist industry do. The third is kind of the place where many Thais live and work and is their equivalent of suburbia and some rural areas, where Thais themselves go.

A place I used to work for had factory facilities in Thailand and I got to know one or two Thai people quite well. In a resteraunt one evening we were chatting over dinner and one of them commented that the biggest problem with Americans was they wanted the whole world to be America so that they would feel comfortable wherever they went.

The thing is most of the rest of the world does not want to be America, to be honest most people outside of America look at it as being a trailer park on the wrong side of the tracks. In Europe the rise of various types of crime is usualy blaimed on American culture, especialy drugs, guns, gangs and illegal sex trade activities. But it’s also blatent consumerism, the Banking crisis, etc etc. The list is long and various Governments have at various points in time over the past fifty years passed legislation against American culture and activities in one way or another.

One or two of my American friends have asked why America is viewed the way it is and to be honest it’s not easy to answer without being trite. But one thing is true America has a major image problem and when it comes to a choice of how to deal with things most people view the way American choses as the wrong way…

With regards your comment,

Contrast that with Iran or North Korea who publicly swear America should be wiped off the map. And have the resources to do something about it

Well yes and no, although N.Korea is getting close to it.

America is almost single handedly responsible for what is going on in both Iran and N.Korea in that respect. The US sowed and is now reaping the harvest. Basicaly the US has been provoking both countries in one way or another for well over fifty years as part of the “super power game”. After WWII the percieved world order changed Europe was all but destroyed and the so called British Empire finally fell appart (the fact that it had in effect fallen in all but name after WWI was not belived by many including the US). Of the three allied protagonists only the US and Russia had the basic resources to become Super Powers. Churchill was deeply suspicious of Stalin and his motives and in the end nearly lost his seat at the table over his idea to attack the Axis powers in the south east of Europe. Part of Churchills aim was to limit how far Russia under Stalin could advance westwards. For various reasons the US view was that the invasion should be from western Europe which was the view Stalin also prefered.

In the end Churchill got the invasion from the Med but when it got to Italy it stalled due to the actions of Mark Clark, and the result as Churchill expected was that the invasion from the west would bog down and slow up and Russia would drive forward towards the west coast of Europe.

As Churchill had suspected once Stalin had a military foot hold in any area he was not going to relinquish the gains, so in fairly short order the Cold war started. The difference now was captured German Technology, the designed but not built V3 was supposadly going to take the war to America from central Germany, possibly with a German Nuclear weapon. The Russians captured or stole much of the technology and it was not long befor the idea of continental America actually comming under threat from what we now call ICBMs dawned on the US en mass.

Like all over endowed parties the super powers wanted to show their muscles but the idea of direct nuclear confruntation was way to risky so instead the US and Russia started to fight proxy wars.

Also during this time Russia aided China on their first steps to super power status and Stalin encoraged China to join in the proxy war game.

In essensce Russia started the Korean war and then passed it over to China. The result was in the end stalmate and Korea was devided by an uneasy cease fire agrement (that was still in place untill very recently). It was an unfortunate portend of things to come with Vietnam.

Ever since the cease fire US troops have been stationed in South Korea and various war games and other quite deliberatly provking actions have been taken by the US against the north.

If you look back on this blog you will find that I’ve been more concerned about N.Korea than I have about Iran for several years.

Whilst Iran may be developing nuclear weapon capability it does not have a delivery system. Personaly I suspect Iran’s nuclear development is actually as claimed for energy security (most in the middle east are more aware that the oil is nearly gone than your average American is). Further the lesson of Iraq’s supposed WMD is unlikely to have been missed by them.

However the chase after nukes is a game the Americans have fostered with the way they treat other countries that have developed nukes. In effect the US anounced that a place on the top political table could be bought with nuclear capability by their deeds rather than their words.

N.Korea have started and stopped their nuclear developments almost entirely as a result of US political behaviour. The simple fact is that the US and N.Korea have come to agrements in the past the N.Koreans have acted as they said they would do but the US repeatedly failed to deliver on it’s promises…

Unsurprisingly the N.Korea’s have apparently decided that the US promises have no value and have thus moved forward to the point where they now appear to have nuclear capability but more importantly a viable delivery system…

If I were a person who was prone to making wagers I’d put a few pennies on the next serious political hot spot being the far east not the middle east.

Moderator May 10, 2013 2:30 PM

Could you please elaborate on the criteria that you require for posting on a subject, rules, or why comments are deleted.

I think I know what prompted this question and that wasn’t moderator action; it was an automated process behaving badly. That comment is back now.

Generally, we ask that commenters (1) contribute to the conversation, and (2) follow Wheaton’s Law.

Vles May 11, 2013 1:33 PM

America has a major image problem

Well yes and no. I agree there are points of disconnects between perception and reality (GTMO isn’t helping), but these are being masterfully handled at the upper echelons. I’d go so far as saying that the USA is better at stitching these perception/reality gaps up than any other country. In its history it certainly has had a lot more practice than any other country…

Being the only superpower left is a real curse sometimes and at the very least a double-edged sword when it comes to foreign policy making. But for every person against the USA there are quite a lot of people for it. Before the American Empire there was the British, before that the French & Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and they all succumbed.

Americans are still thriving because 1. They carried the spoils home post WWII and then they proceeded to reset world diplomacy 2. The English language has proved itself to be remarkable resilient AND adaptable pilfering words from over 350 languages and establishing itself as a global institution 3. The rise and dominance of TV, music and video. 4. The rise and dominance of IT&T. (Todays generation simply can’t imagine a world without computers, internet (Google, Wikipedia,Facebook, Youtube and smartphones). USA is a squid and its tentacles are spread all over the world.

Though I am very much younger than you Clive me and my friends have for some time been working behind the scenes in addressing some of these image problems. The original idea that is the US of A is a powerful idea and I’m of a firm belief that the interplay between the old world, the new world and the east hasn’t reached its height yet. That ‘Murica, Europe et al have taken a small economic blow is perhaps necessary for the BRIC countries to rise and become more intergrated in the overall framework. It is a balancing act, a delicate one, but it is of a tranforming nature and happening on a world wide scale. One in which America has been playing the role of conductor. (Because what role is there left to play?) My point is: It is easy to hate but for the aforementiond items and its past achievements it should be admired – as long as its intentions remain noble. Even in the far corners of the world where the common man doesn’t look past the US flag and then just decides to burn it, we know the intelligentsia, politicians, military- and business men know better.

Oh and I agree N. Korea poses a small threat. But it’s nothing that can’t be handled with grace, resolve, wit and intelligence. These alone can be found on this blog in abundance.

(And the US diplo cable dump! It may well have angered some short sighted American politicians, I however thought it a brilliant way of showing the world the level of professionalism and conduct displayed by its Diplomatic Corps.)

P.S. Fiona has wings! I gave her ball 11. I still owe her yellow no 1.

kind regards :o)

Anon May 14, 2013 9:48 PM

Terrorists should never be tried in civilian courts. Simply put, a lot of the damning evidence is classified and shouldn’t be entrusted to a civilian jury. Additionally, because the evidence against terrorists is classified, terrorists should not be allowed to see the evidence against them. Further, the case of Lynne Stewart, demonstrates that civilian lawyers should not be allowed to communicate with terrorists. Terrorists should only have access to a US military, court appointed lawyer.

Autolykos May 15, 2013 7:38 AM

@Carpe: There are other types of terrorists than just “national agents” and “lone radicals”, for example “groups funded by private persons/organizations” and “franchises of such groups”. And for involvement of the Pakistani or Saudi Arabian (you mean them, and not South Africa, I presume) government in 9/11, I’d like to see the evidence. It’s probably about as sketchy as the evidence for the involvement of the American or Israeli government.

Autolykos May 15, 2013 7:47 AM

@Anon: If you go down that road, you can save the hassle of putting them on trial at all. Any meaningful defense against “classified” evidence is impossible anyway, and such a trial would be a mockery of justice.
You can just as well conduct some Soviet-style show trials or simply shoot them in the back.

Anon May 16, 2013 4:28 PM


The Lockerbie bombing is one instance of a nation-state sponsored terrorist attack against the US after Pearl Harbor.

Anon May 16, 2013 4:41 PM


I agree with you that it probably doesn’t make sense to have a trial at all for non us citizens detained overseas. Instead, a military commander, with access to all the classified and the authority to question the detainee, should determine if a preponderance of the evidence indicates a person has ever been associated with a terrorist organization.

RonK May 18, 2013 1:06 AM

@ Stratego

“They want American and Israeli foreign policy to stop targeting them with warfare.”

Strange, I had the distinct impression that the current anti-American sentiment in the Arab world was fueled by the presence of American military bases in Saudi Arabia, this being (under some interpretations) forbidden by Islam.

And the fundamental underlying reason would seem to be simply the fact that political bogeymen are important, if not essential, for many politicians to remain in power.

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