By Willie Johnson | United States
Like numerous presidents before him, Donald J. Trump has been widely criticized for failing to keep campaign promises. From building a border wall with Mexico to imprisoning Hillary Clinton, he has failed to live up to many expectations, but that’s not always a bad thing. His recent executive order to keep open the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, serves as a shining example of how our president’s failure to follow through (and the outrage it would incite) would have been a better alternative to his choice of maintaining a system that is both illegal and morally corrupt.
Let’s flashback to January 2009—Newly inaugurated President Barack Obama tried to keep a campaign promise of his own by signing executive order 13492, mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay facility no later than one year in the future. It stated that prisoners still being held would either be released or transferred to a detention facility elsewhere. It was meant to serve the interests of both national security and foreign policy by treating detainees as enemy combatants under the rules of the Geneva Convention. A solid plan, no doubt, but one that was unfortunately overturned by congressional legislation. Nine years later, it’s back to bite us all.
What’s the issue with Guantanamo Bay, anyway? First of all, the grounds for its very existence is shaky at best. It was first established as an American naval base in 1903, but even the Department of Justice admits that its status as a U.S. territory is up for dispute. It isn’t under foreign jurisdiction either, making it the perfect place to carry out internment and interrogation techniques that would otherwise be illegal. The camp’s classification as a detainment facility is a thinly veiled attempt at hiding the obvious. If we are fighting a war on terror, Guantanamo is a prisoner of war camp, and should, therefore, adhere to the regulations of the Geneva Convention and Red Cross—both of which clearly state that there exists no status between a prisoner of war and a civilian. Detainees there occupy that illegal middle ground. Failing to close the facility is failing to respect international law.
In his first State of the Union speech, President Trump stated that his decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open was based on the need for a place to detain newly apprehended ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists. The executive order he issued the same day calls for humane and legal treatment of detainees, but as stated before, such behavior cannot be assured without the threat of repercussions that simply aren’t present at Guantanamo. If the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was any example, fair treatment of prisoners is not always a prerequisite in American facilities outside of American soil. Regardless of alternative solutions, however, the potential for such crimes should be snuffed out as soon as possible.
The president has failed to realize that in trying to crack down on terrorism and improve the nation’s security, he is perpetuating a cycle of injustice established long before he took office. If he can find a way to agree with his predecessor and approach the issue with the no-nonsense attitude he is famous for, that cycle will end. No government should operate outside its own laws, and the United States is no exception.
Image from NBC news.