This piece was originally published June 28, 2005 on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commentary page.
In her recent Post-Dispatch commentary, Amy White chided critics of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for not offering any “real alternatives.” She apparently missed my report for the International Rights and Responsibilities Program of the Center for American Progress in Washington.
In that report, “After Guantanamo: A Way Forward,” I argued that President George W. Bush should close Guantanamo and shift detainee operations to the
disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. I also recommended a number of additional steps that would both protect the American people and, at the same time, fulfill our obligations under domestic and international law.
Guantanamo Bay has become a rallying cry for our enemies, a recruiting tool for the global terrorist network; it undermines our ability to promote freedom and democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. Every day it stays open, it puts our soldiers and citizens at risk.
In the war on terrorism, the Bush administration has attempted to create new systems where well-established and well-respected processes already existed: It tossed aside the Geneva Conventions, set up the prison at Guantanamo, threw out the Army Field Manual on interrogations and bypassed military courts. These new systems have failed at great cost to the American people.
The war on terrorism now has outlasted American involvement in World War II, with no end in sight. Polls show the American people are losing faith in President Bush’s policies. It is clear that we need to change course.
Fort Leavenworth is the most appropriate location for U.S. military detainee operations. It was established as the U.S. disciplinary barracks in 1874 and currently houses more than 500 inmates from all branches of the armed services.
Its personnel are the best trained and most experienced at managing a prison population in the U.S. military. If more space is needed at Fort Leavenworth, the contract just awarded to Halliburton to expand Guantanamo easily could be shifted there.
But this is not the only change in policy needed to ensure that the problems of Guantanamo do not follow the prisoners wherever they go. We must return to the policies on interrogations spelled out in the Army Field Manual. We must identify those detainees who pose no security threat and have no worthwhile
intelligence information and return them to their home countries, unless they would face torture there. We must prosecute the remaining detainees in general courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The most disappointing aspect of our experience at Guantanamo is that none of these solutions represent new or groundbreaking policy proposals. Rather, they are the result of the centuries of experience from the United States and other Western democracies.
The highest priority of the U.S. government is protecting American lives. The detention center at Guantanamo Bay is making that task more difficult. It should be closed.
For more information, read Ken Gude’s report: After Guantanamo: The Way Forward
Ken Gude is the Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibilities Program at the Center for American Progress.