Obama must exercise caution in crafting Guantanamo Bay exit plan

October 27, 2009 — by Vijay Menon and Abhishek Venkataramana

If President Obama’s continual call for troop surges in Afghanistan and his overseeing of unprecedented Predator drone bombings on impoverished Pakistani farming villages haven’t yet convinced doubters that he is deserving of his recently awarded Nobel Peace Prize, then maybe following through on his promise to close the highly criticized Guantanamo Bay Prison might actually convince a few skeptics and show the world that he is actually deserving of the Nobel Prize in his pocket.

However, as he faces the dilemma of actually carrying out his campaign promise, he must find a way to figure out the what should be done with all the detainees on the island. In dealing with this situation, Obama must be sensitive in making a decision that will not only appease critics on both sides of the issue but also ensure a secure removal and relocation of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Under the constant terrorist witch hunts of the previous administration, many innocent people, all categorically referred to by President Bush as “Taliban jihadists,” were incarcerated without having been given a reason for their detention. This has brought up the issue of what to do with the 300 or so detainees who will have to be released following Obama’s promised closing of the facility.

Although there are legitimate concerns surrounding the intentions of these detainees, it would be impractical for the administration to attempt to transfer all of these detainees to America for a trial. Instead, the government must carefully screen all detainees and release the innocent ones who have been held without a legitimate reason, a group that constitutes the majority of Guantanamo inmates.

The United States may have created the quagmire that Guantanamo Bay has devolved into; however, instead of trying fix the problem alone, America should swallow its pride and send a request to the foreign community for a helping hand. Upon being released, not all the detainees can be allowed to roam freely in the United States. To secure the safety of American citizens, they should be released to different countries.

There, they can live safely, a considerable distance away from posing threat to American society and free from further persecution. Fortunately, numerous countries around the world have shown interest in offering homes to freed detainees with little risk of future terrorist breeding. The island nation of Palau, for example, recently accepted 13 Uighurs (Chinese Muslims) from Guantanamo who would have faced discrimination and possible arrest had they been deported back to China.

Although the decision to simply release many detainees will most likely be met with skepticism and even shock by many Americans, the reality is that this is the only practical way that United States can shut down Guantanamo in a timely fashion.

The Obama administration must also deal with the detainees that prove to be actual terrorist threats. They must be tried and given fair defense in an impartial court of law in the United States rather than in biased military courts, a tactic suggested by impatient politicians itching to rid themselves of Guantanamo Bay controversies.

After all, the reason that Guantanamo Bay has had such a negative effect on America’s worldwide image is that the facility held criminals unfairly without charges and blatantly abused inmates. To remedy America’s image and show that it is ready to change, President Obama must prove that he is not only shutting down Guantanamo as a symbolic statement but is ready to move forward with fair and impartial policies that do not advocate torture in the future.

In dealing with this issue, Obama must emphasize national security while balancing the equally important issue of justice. Despite the backlash that will inevitably follow any decision on the issue, the most practical and overall most ideal process by which to handle the closing of Guantanamo Bay calls for the release of innocent prisoners into foreign soil and the trial of dangerous ones on American soil in an impartial environment. Perhaps delegating justice to a case sorely lacking in it will help Obama truly earn a still-raw Nobel Peace Prize.

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