The recently reported capture of a “significant” Islamic State militant has led to calls for the detainee to be sent to the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has said, "ISIS continues to pose a dangerous threat to the U.S. and our allies, and the capture of a high-ranking ISIS terrorist is a significant opportunity to gather valuable intelligence and prevent future attacks. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is designed specifically for this purpose.”
Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, June 6, 2008 in Cuba. BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images
Indeed, it is. And according to the International Committee of the Red Cross physicians I worked with at Gitmo in 2002, “no one does [detention operations] better than the U.S.”
So why the reluctance on the part of the Obama administration to use what is arguably the finest military detention facility on earth?
Whenever political goals differ from military common sense we put ourselves at high risk of failure. And in the realm of national defense, failure cannot be an option.
It has been reported that the recently captured Islamic State detainee will be eventually turned over to Iraqi or Kurdish officials. What about the future? Who will take subsequent detainees and how?
Will the United States be held accountable for the safety of detainees it captures when they are handed over to others who may harm them?
The former document, still in effect from 2001, is the legal basis for the capture of hostile enemies, confirmed by the latter document. The Geneva Conventions and Law of Land Warfare (Army Field Manual 27-10) give authority to hold even lawful combatant Prisoners of War under those terms and “until the end of hostilities.”
If we are taking and holding unlawful combatants in the Global War on Terror again, what is the guidance from the Obama administration on how they will be treated?
In late 2001, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told my superiors prior to our mission at Gitmo that, “although [the detainees] do not deserve the protections of the Geneva Conventions, we will treat them within the spirit of Geneva.” Then President George W. Bush reiterated this philosophy in January 2002.
Has U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told military leaders in the Middle East the same thing? If not, the detainees could be held as unlawful combatants who are entitled to no extra-legal privileges and can treated any old way their captors choose, with no legal repercussions.
How is that? The Geneva Conventions were written to protect INNOCENT CIVILIANS in time of war, not to protect those who PRETEND to be innocent civilians in order to MURDER them. Unlawful combatants are legally entitled to absolutely nothing.
In World War II the United States held over 400,000 lawful combatants, mostly German prisoner's of war, without one call for extra-legal privileges for them. Unlawful combatant German saboteurs who set foot on U.S. soil in 1942 were denied habeas corpus, tried by military commission, and then six of eight were executed, all within less than eight weeks of their capture. And it was done secretly.
Through the current lens of over 680 released unlawful combatant Islamist Gitmo detainees, at least 30 percent of whom are known or suspected recidivists, it may shock you to know that these German saboteurs hurt no one, nor did they destroy any property or military targets. However, they were not in uniform, did not carry their weapons openly, and had the means and intent to kill people and destroy property. Spies, saboteurs, unlawful enemies.
The U.S. moved in-country detention of battlefield captives from Afghanistan to Gitmo in late 2001 because it was not safe to keep hundreds of potential information gold mines in a tenuously secure environment. A CIA operative who was interviewing detainees, Johnny Michael Spann, was the first U.S. combat death in Operation Enduring Freedom. He was killed in a prison riot in Qali-Jangi fortress, Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, on Nov. 25, 2001.
The riot that took his life was messy, embarrassing and not in keeping with the good order and discipline of traditional U.S. military enemy detention. Something had to be done and fast.
In the fall of 2001, my U.S. Army Reserve unit, the 800th Military Police Brigade, was tasked with putting together a plan to control several hundred unlawful combatants. We discussed locations for this detention, namely, Guam, Diego Garcia, Hawaii, and Guantanamo Bay. Gitmo won for many reasons, including the fact that the isolation cells used to separate trouble makers from the general population of Haitian immigrants in the early 1990’s were still intact. This was Camp X-Ray.
Camp X-Ray took a little elbow grease to get going in December 2001 (think outdoor dog kennels), but construction on the new and better Camp Delta began in late February 2002. Detainees were housed in Camp X-Ray for about four months, through the third week of April 2002.
As time went on at Gitmo things improved for the bad guys, but from the very beginning they enjoyed Korans; prayer rugs (and now prayer beads); halal and special Muslim holiday meals including lamb and baklava; signs showing them the way to Mecca for prayer; and the free services of a Muslim military chaplain. All of this was paid for with your tax dollars (Muslim jizya?). All this and the Obama administration swears they are not religious.
Did I mention the world class medical, dental and vision care Gitmo detainees receive thanks to your tax dollars? Did I mention a library, DVD’s and an artificial turf soccer field that you pay for? Oh, and the weather is fabulous at Gitmo, right on the south east coast of Cuba. Some detainees even have a sea view.
So, why let this Caribbean paradise go to waste? What’s the rub? Bring these new bad guys to Club Gitmo and have at ‘em – without waterboarding. Even though that authorized enhanced interrogation technique WORKED on a handful of detainees which saved many lives, it’s not politically correct anymore.
One has to wonder at this point; with the Islamic State “on the run,”, maybe they will start surrendering in droves, like 70,000 Iraqi troops did during Operation Desert Storm, with the hope of being taken to Gitmo, President Obama’s Muslim paradise.
Montgomery Granger is a three-times mobilized U.S. Army major (Ret.) and author of "Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior." Amazon, Blog, Facebook, Twitter: @mjgranger1
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