SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Closing Guantánamo Is Easy

Obama Doesn’t Need Congress. He Needs Travelocity.

Guantánamo is complicated. Everyone says so.

Everyone is wrong.

There’s nothing complicated about it. Guantánamo should be closed.

Mainstream media pundits don’t get it. They suggest a lame hodgepodge of solutions: a few repatriations here, a few extraordinary renditions there, maybe convincing some allies to take the victims of our stupid “war on terrorism.”

Immoral and idiotic.

All of the detainees — every last one of them, the schlubs who have been officially cleared by the Pentagon and, yes, even the scary dudes the government insists are “the worst of the worst” — can, should and — if the United States Constitution means anything at all — must be released.


In the United States.

I don’t find myself saying this very often, but President Obama is finally doing talking about doing something right. Granted, he let five years pass before he took the problem seriously. It took a hunger strike, now entering its fourth month, which could begin claiming the lives of some of the more than 100 participating POWs, to get his attention. Even now, he is violating the detainees’ human rights and the standards of the American Medical Association by violently shoving feeding tubes up their noses to —irony alert! — save their lives. Still, better late than never: Obama (finally) says he wants to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise by closing this monstrosity.

“Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” he told a news conference. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

So close it. You don’t need Congress. All you need is a Travelocity account.

When Obama became president in 2009, there were 245 prisoners at Gitmo. Now there are 166. (None have been released since 2011, which demoralized the remaining prisoners to the point that many are willing to die from hunger.) Some of these wretches been there since the concentration camp — look it up, there is no better term for it — opened 12 years ago.

It’s been ages. Three inmates arrived at Gitmo as children. As they passed through adolescence and entered adulthood, they were tortured, abused, and denied basic human rights by American soldiers and CIA agents, left to rot in American dog cages. (At least 28 children have done time there.)

American officials worry that their experience may have radicalized them. How could it not? If it hasn’t, they must be insane.

The horrors are just beginning to come out. A Spanish investigation censored in U.S. media found that American soldiers have abused Gitmo prisoners with “blows to [the] testicles,” “detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep,” being “inoculated…through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts,'” smearing feces on prisoners and (of course) waterboarding.

Actionable intelligence obtained under torture: none.

This was in 2009. Under Obama.

Few Americans are aware of how the vast majority of the so-called detainees got there. Mostly, they were sold. Yes, like slaves: Afghan warlords and Pakistani tribesmen sold anyone they could find, especially Arabs and other foreigners fleeing the 2001 US invasion, to the CIA and the US military for bounties ranging between $3,000 and $25,000. Hundreds of men and boys shipped to America’s new gulag were innocent, simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. As for the rest, the majority were never a threat to America. Their jihad was against the governments of U.S. frenemies like China, Pakistan and Yemen.

The 166 survivors — several have committed suicide, and some deaths classified as suicides were almost certainly murdered under torture using an obscure technique called “dryboarding” — can be classified into four categories:

Eighty-six have been cleared for transfer or release but can’t be sent back to their home country — Yemen, for most of them — because, as political dissidents, they might be — irony alert! — tortured or killed.

The Obama administration considers 47 too dangerous to release, but cannot prosecute them because there isn’t enough evidence against them, or the case against them has been compromised by the fact that they were tortured.

Twenty-four are deemed prosecutable but no one can say when a trial might take place.

Six have been charged and three have been convicted in the kangaroo court “military commission” system invented by George W. Bush’s legal team to prosecute “unlawful combatants,” a phony term that doesn’t exist under U.S. or international law.

Obama should stop blaming Congress. Yes, the Republicans did refuse to allocate funds to transfer Guantánamo detainees to the United States. But Obama signed their legislation into law. He owns this mess.

All 166 men should be offered the choice of a ticket back home or permanent residency in the United States. After all, what are we talking about? 166 one-way tickets. Even if we fly these guys first-class, $250,000 isn’t going to break the bank. Obama is worth about $12 million. Who needs taxpayer money? He could cover that personally.

Consider it retroactive payment for that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Under the American system of justice, everyone — citizen or noncitizen — is innocent until proven guilty. 163 of these guys clearly can’t be proven guilty, and the three that were found guilty obviously didn’t get a fair trial. The rules might have been different had the Bush and Obama administrations classified them as POWs, but he didn’t want to give them the rights that they were entitled to under the Geneva Conventions. The US has been having it both ways for 12 long years. This disgusting farce needs to come to an end now.

Imagine the visual: Obama flies to Cuba, personally apologizes to each man, hands him a big check for $10 million, throws open the gates of the camp and gives it back to Cuba (from which we stole it in the first place). Hell, let them hitch a ride back to Andrews on Air Force One. Open bar!

Would some of these ex-Gitmo victims join the fight against the United States? Maybe. After all, 60% of American ex-cons reoffend. In a free society, that’s a risk that we take.

Still, you’ve got to think that in a country full of security cameras, with two or three overfunded intelligence agencies and countless domestic police apparatuses, it shouldn’t be too hard to set up the former prisoners of Guantánamo with job training, phone taps, GPS trackers on their cars and two or three agents each to follow them around and make sure that they don’t get into trouble.

And don’t forget that footage of Obama apologizing.

Can you imagine how pissed off the Al Qaeda guys would be?

(Ted Rall’s website is His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)



  • alex_the_tired
    May 2, 2013 8:14 PM


    I was watching a documentary on PBS this evening about a group of German generals during WWII who were POWs in England and kept in a country home under very comfortable conditions. The house and the surrounding grounds were heavily bugged and a great number of conversations were recorded — and transcribed (to the tune of about 50,000 pages of documents.

    No torture. No sadism by the captors. Simply the application of a little sense. Put them in a room, leave some newspapers lying around, let them listen to radio broadcasts of the progress of the war, put the two generals with the most diametrically opposed opinion in the same room, and just sit back as native speakers listen in, record, transcribe and mine the data in real time. Go for a walk, ask a couple leading questions, and just watch as the information comes pouring in.

    So what’s the story with Gitmo on this regard? Am I seriously to believe that those prisoners aren’t being video- and audio-taped around the clock? One of three things is going on:

    1. Everyone in the administration realizes the prisoners are worthless as sources of information, so no one’s bothering recording anything, even though such recordings can be done for pennies.

    2. No one will allow anything to be recorded because what is going on at Camp Gitmo is either too close to or well over the line into war crime activities. That is, if the tapes ever were made (and wikileaked to the world or revealed through subpoena) they would indict pretty much every American at the camp as a war criminal of some sort.

    3. (A combination of #1 and #2.) As you say, these prisoners are nobodies from the point of view of being of relevance in the War on Terror(TM). At best, they’re minor players: the corner crack vendor, the pimp with a stable of four girls, the cop who lifts a couple 50s from the evidence locker. At best.

    At worst, you’ve got the Edmund Dantes effect. Take someone who didn’t do anything, throw him in jail, destroy his life and his future, and watch him self-radicalize. What do you do once you realize that each of the Gitmo prisoners — in the instant-publishing world of the Internet — is going to have almost immediate, encyclopedic coverage as soon as he gets out of jail?

    At best, you’ll have dozens of men who are so furiously angry that they’ll go around saying, “I wasn’t a terrorist when I went in, but you can bet your ass that I am now.” At worst, you’ll have dozens of men who will simply tell their stories: “I was arrested on the say-so of one person, who was paid by the Americans. The Americans locked me in a cage, tormented me, laughed while they did it, kept me from my family, force-fed me, and ruined my life. They did it for the reason the powerful always do, because they could.”

    If THAT happens, I will start being very nervous because that sort of testimony will radicalize thousands of people, and some of those people will actually be very calculating and very thorough before they start blowing shit up.

    • Alex: Whatever these detainees knew about anything is now ancient information. Most were worthless from an intel pov from the start; all are now.

  • No way I want any of these people given permanent residence in the USA – I just want them freed to go back to their home or own people. I also want the immigration and asylum door closed on people like the Tsareov boys and their ilk. The lifeboat we call the USA is already taking on water and splitting at the seams……still, there may be the possibility of making them personal drivers for many of our legislators or gardeners at their homes, huh? :^0 – nah!, costs too much to keep them under constant survelliance for the test of their lives.

    • Think of it as a job creation program.

      We kidnapped them. They’re our responsibility. Like a puppy your kid brings home…now we have to keep them.

  • By all means, let them go, but any American politician with half a brain knows that you can NEVER apologize in America iif you value your career. Look at the Exxon spill in Alaska vs BP. Exxon ended up paying a big fat ZERO because they never admitted anything. Americans see apologies as admissions of guilt (which they are), and in America the guilty must be punished no matter what. No exceptions, and it’s better to punish an innocent man then risk letting a guilty one go free. Most American won’t admit that they believe this but as the gun control debate on the liberal side shows, they believe it in their core.

  • I am guessing that this article was written with a lot of sarcasm and black humor, and that’s why you responded to my comment with “we kidnapped them, they’re our responsibility”. I didn’t kidnap them, and maybe the people who did should be responsible, because “I” am not responsible for every stupid thing my country does just because I happened to be born in America. I stand by my comment, because I wouldn’t want to see them buying fireworks or planning retribution on our soil. If one of my neighbors mistreats a dog, and it turns vicious and starts biting and attacking people, then I think it should be killed (‘put-down’ is just a silly politically correct term for killing it) and the owner of the dog punished.

  • michaelwme
    May 4, 2013 3:27 PM

    The median income in Pakistan is about $150. When a Pakistani hands an enemy over as a terrorist for 100 years income, we have his word that his enemy was a terrorist. Irrefutable proof.

    Then we applied ‘enhanced interrogation.’ Under executive order, Congressional resolution, and Supreme Court agreement, nothing the US government does as ‘enhanced interrogation’ can EVER be legally called ‘torture’ by anyone, anywhere (or they can expect a drone to explain their error to them). Under ‘enhanced interrogation’ they all confessed. We already had irrefutable proof, but now they’ve all admitted it. So every last one of them is guilty, and deserves the maximum punishment.

    When I was a schoolboy, my silly textbooks condemned the ‘justice’ of the Middle Ages: the Spanish Inquisition, the British Star Chamber. Now we know those people all had the right idea, but did NOT have the right to apply it, since they were corrupt (not to mention Roman Catholic in the case of the Spanish Inquisition), but the American government is incorruptible, and so not only has every right to use those methods, but MUST use those methods to keep America safe.

    President Obama wanted to transfer the Guantánamo prisoners to a SuperMax prison INSIDE the US, but Congress wouldn’t fund the transfer. Obviously, all the evidence is classified, so cannot be used. If the US government says they’re guilty, then they’re guilty, and anyone who says otherwise is NOT a patriot (and all such people would expect a drone if Obama were not a weak president, unlike our Greatest President Ever, Bush, Jr).

    The New York Times says we need to judge the prisoners, find them all guilty, execute the lot, and then close Guantánamo. After all, the person who sold them assured us they were guilty AND they all confessed.

    And anyone who is a patriotic American must agree that we need to execute them all with a Pit and a Pendulum. It’s the only civilised way.

  • @Ted

    “Yes, the Republicans did refuse to allocate funds to transfer Guantánamo detainees to the United States. But Obama signed their legislation into law. He owns this mess.”

    Well, at least you’re acknowledging the Republicans this time around. I’ll get you to admit the truth yet.

    Now, the reason that Obama signed this legislation is because they attached it to something that had a veto-proof majority and did a lot of other horrible things. Were Obama to veto the legislation he would’ve been unable to use signing statements to fix the other bad things, and Gitmo would’ve stayed open anyway. Nice try.

    And also, the next time you pen one of these- at least TRY to put forward something that Obama could actually get through Congress. You have yet to offer anything even remotely plausible or useful towards closing Gitmo, preferring to bash Obama for things beyond his control. Which makes you look bad, not him.

    • Whimsical: This isn’t nearly as complicated as you would have it seem. If the president doesn’t agree with any portion of any legislation, he does not have to sign it into law. Vetoproof majority? That bill did not have a vetoproof majority. He did not have to sign it. And he didn’t make any effort whatsoever to use signing statements to close Guantánamo. More to the point, he can close Guantánamo using an executive order. Also, he does not have to use taxpayer funds in order to ship the detainees to the United States. He could use his own personal funds.