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by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado Among President Barack Obama’s campaign promises was a pledge to “close Guantanamo”, meaning, it is presumed, just the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that houses some of the world’s most dangerous men. The base itself, one hopes, will continue to operate, since it is of no minor importance to the Navy. The oldest U.S. naval base on foreign soil, it has figured prominently in recent years in counter drug operations and humanitarian assistance efforts in the Caribbean. It was leased from Cuba in 1903. The lease cannot be terminated without mutual consent. Closing Guantanamo, whose nickname, Gitmo, derives from the Navy abbreviation GTMO, is a cause celebre with Bush bashers and the anti-war crowd in general. It is a campaign promise, however, that even Mr. Obama realizes will create some serious problems. Chief among these is the question of what to do with the nasty fellows incarcerated there. Many are vocally unrepentant in their hatred of the United States and have pledged to rejoin the terrorists if released. Many who have been released already have done so. Others have asked to be executed so that they can become martyrs. Returning them to their countries of origin is what many of the critics favor but in some cases, those countries will not accept them. Releasing them would endanger Americans. So if they cannot be safely turned loose and can’t be repatriated, then they must be confined somewhere until they are tried or considered to no longer pose a danger. The problem is where, since no community is eager to have them around. Perhaps we should have given this more thought before demanding that Gitmo be closed. It’s amusing to listen to the San Diego congressional delegation, for example, squeal in protest at the very suggestion that Camp Pendleton or Miramar could be a detention site. Guantanamo Bay was selected as a detention site for these and other reasons. It was believed initially that confining the detainees on foreign soil in a U.S. military base would provide greater security and would keep them under military jurisdiction rather than allow them access to U.S. civilian courts. The courts, however, ruled otherwise and said that the writ of habeas corpus applies to the detainees and that they are entitled to the same rights and privileges as anyone else in the U.S. charged with a crime. But these are not common criminals. In fact they should not be classified as criminals at all. Neither are they uniformed combatants entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. The government must afford a higher priority to the protection of American citizens than to alleged rights which critics of the war want to confer on these detainees who pose a real threat to our country and its people. Until Americans wake up to the fact that the war against terrorism is not about “bringing terrorists to justice” we will be putting our citizens at increased and unnecessary risk. The Bush administration official who serves as convening authority of military commissions, Susan Crawford, has recently concluded that the military tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian terrorist, at Guantanamo by subjecting him to sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold. (Sounds rather like the survival training our own special forces endure.) Ms. Crawford acknowledged that all the techniques used were authorized, but that “the manner in which they applied them was (gasp) overly aggressive and too persistent…” She went on to describe various acts of humiliation that al-Qahtani was subjected to including insults to his mother and sister and (omigod) being forced to wear women’s underwear. Crawford said that his treatment “met the legal definition of torture and that’s why I did not refer the case (for prosecution).” This is, forgive me, a tortured definition of torture which my heaviest dictionary defines as the act of inflicting excruciating pain (not discomfort or humiliation) as revenge or to obtain a confession. Crawford acknowledged that al-Qahtani was very dangerous and would hesitate to let him go.” But with respect to what to actually do with him, she said that is a question for President Obama to decide. I’ll say, and soon, I hope. Eric Holder, Mr. Obama’s choice for attorney general, has declared waterboarding to be torture. (The CIA banned it in 2006 and the U.S. military doesn’t allow it.) Critics of the war, including members of Congress and other armchair experts, have taken great liberties in defining torture and the interrogation techniques that they feel constitute torture. Never mind that some of these techniques are commonly used in law enforcement. We are treading on really dangerous ground here. Some critics of the war, foreign and domestic, are already urging prosecution of some Bush Administration officials for war crimes, alleging that they permitted interrogation techniques increasingly defined by some as torture.. This could have a chilling effect on future efforts to obtain information from detainees that could save American lives. President Obama must do more than simply distancing himself from such efforts. He must make it clear that his administration will act to prevent such witch hunts against officials who, in the wake of 9/11, acted in good faith to try to protect Americans. Meanwhile, let’s stop trying to redefine torture for ideological purposes. CRO copyright 2008 J.F. Kelly, Jr. J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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