On Guantanamo

Before coming to Canada, I was working on a documentary film about the story of the remaining two Kuwaitis, detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. The two are among a group of 50 shortlisted detainees who are likely to be detained indefinitely as part of the new US approach to “address” the Guantanamo dilemma.

During his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama promised to close the GTMO detention facility in Cuba within the first six months of his presidency. Going from that to adopting the concept of indefinite detention is quite an extreme change of position, even for a politician. It makes you wonder about what could’ve so dramatically changed his mind about this issue!

I thought about this for a very long time. The only reasonable explanation that I could come up with (given the fact that I am of the belief that Obama himself is not a bad person) is that there must be some sort of a higher, longer-term policy that this detention facility is executing; a policy that Obama learned about only after he got into office, and a one that only makes sense to him now, as a president.

I think that in order to figure out this possible policy behind the GTMO bay prison, we need to see this issue from the perspective of those who first created it, specifically those in the higher levels of the Bush administration. Their aim might have been to create a model in GTMO for terrorists to be scared of, because they seem to not be afraid of death.

This mentality is totally in line with the policies of the previous US administration. For them this serves as some sort of a psychological war or a warning for the terrorists that if they attack the US then they will be tortured. The Guantanamo Bay detention facility is designed to be a “Hell on earth”, to discourage terrorists by giving them a third alternative other than triumph or “heaven.”

While people like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, could assume that this will reduce the risk of terrorist attacks against the US, the truth that a person like Obama should not overlook is that this only serves as a reason to further fuel the tension between the Muslim world and the United States.

The very concept that the best way to win against terrorism is to “terrorize the terrorists” has failed everywhere in the world, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and elsewhere. This attitude, the pinnacle of which is the Guantanamo Bay prison was, is, and will continue to be one of the most successful tools for terrorist organizations to recruit young and uneducated Muslims and galvanize them against the United States.

In his somewhat historical speech in Cairo, President Obama offered to open a new page in the relations between the US and the Muslim world that is based on mutual respect and mutual interest. Treating Muslims in Guantanamo bay like a bunch of animals, and continuing a policy set by the Bush administration that deals with the Muslim world from the perspective of war on terror is not a gesture of respect. Neither is it serving the interest of the Muslim world, or the United States.

I suspect that when Obama promised to close the Guantanamo bay prison he didn’t know how many people in government agencies, and in the congress, believed in this doctrine. He might have been faced with many people telling him how naïve his plan was. I am only saying this because I really don’t think that Obama is a bad person at all. In fact, I think he is too good to be president, or to be in politics. The sad thing though, if we were to compare the boldness with which Republicans pursue their (usually wicked) goals, to that of Democrats, we will see that the two parties play on different levels.

In my opinion, most of what went wrong in Obama’s presidency came as a compromise to the Republican Party. Time after time he is being challenged on his internal agenda in exchange for an international stance that is favored by the Republicans. The first one was blocking his medical reform legislation in exchange for lifting the heat off Israel over its illegal settlements.

Most recently, it was the debt crisis, when the two parties gambled with the whole US economy, only to arrive later at a solution that is not here and not there.

Puzzled?

Seems like Obama did not anticipate all of this influence on the public opinion these distracting voices have, probably because he came like a sweeping hurricane that diminished all the other ‘noise’ on his way to the white house.

Coming to the battle of the second term in office, Obama is faced with many choices that will determine his believability as a president, will make or break his greatness as a leader, and will decide his fate as a man, and as a human.

Will he remain honest to the person he was before he took the office? Or will he be transformed into another long-nosed politician? Will he do what he promised the American people, and the Muslim world, to do? Will he restore the American values of freedom, justice, and coexistence? Or will he turn into another hawk, or even worse, a pigeon that is bullied and tamed by hawks?

While Obama tries to answer these questions to determine how he wants to be remembered in history, more than 170 Muslims continue to be held by the United States for the 11th year now without a trial. Many of them, including Fayez Al-Kanderi, and Fawzi Al-Odah, the two Kuwaiti citizens, could face indefinite detention without ever having the chance to defend themselves in a court of law. I constantly fail to imagine what will happen if these were not Muslims, if they were Jews or Christians! Would this last this long?

Nobody is saying that everyone in Guantanamo should be sent free. It’s just completely un-American to hold people for over 10 years without a trial. They, as humans, deserve a fair trial where they will be sentenced to a punishment, proportionate with their crime. It’s funny how Osama Bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda got a lighter sentence than those who are ‘accused’ of ‘conspiring’ with Al-Qaeda. He got a fast end, while these guys have to lose their lives twice, once while they “live” in prison, and once when they will die in it.

Fawzi Al-Odah (left), and Fayez Al-Kanderi

What the Americans need to remember is that if terrorists will drag the US down to their level, and force it to abandon its principles and values then they will inevitably win. If they manage to transform the United States to a country that detains without trial, tortures, occupies other countries without ‘valid’ justification, and kills civilians, then terrorism will prevail regardless to the outcome of this ‘war on terror’, because in that case, the winner will be a terrorist anyway.

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One Response to “On Guantanamo”

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