Guantanamo Bay: countries cannot keep offshoring their security

It doesn’t make us safer; it may not even help us to feel safer

February 27, 2016
Protestors outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. © STEVE PARKINS/NEWZULU/PA Images
Protestors outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. © STEVE PARKINS/NEWZULU/PA Images
Read more: A look inside Guantanamo 

With the race to be the next President of the United States in full swing, the current incumbent of that office was this week going through the bucket list from the seven years he has served thus far. Returning to one of the early executive orders of his Presidency, Barack Obama submitted another plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

No sensible person seriously disputes that the policies associated with Guantanamo have been disastrous, providing grist to the mill of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State’s propaganda machines. The plan to close to facility was a centerpiece of Obama’s 2008 election campaign —a key plank in his promise to repudiate the foreign policy misadventures of his predecessor. Yet in Obama’s first term the task proved more difficult than expected: it was predictably hard to convince other countries to take detainees, a diplomatic task made only more difficult following the takeover of the House of Representatives by Republicans in 2010, when the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) attached onerous conditions before transfers could take place, and banned any transfers to the US itself.

Today there is next to no chance that Obama will get his Guantanmo plan through. Lawmakers fear—and they are probably right—that closure will require transferring some of the remaining detainees to prisons within the US. These are men for whom there is insufficient admissible evidence to stand trial, largely because it was obtained by torture, but who have been designated dangerous. As a result, the administration has been unable to meet the conditions of the NDAA or find a country willing to resettle them. Pat Roberts, a Republican Kansas Senator, tweeted a video in which he throws a document of the President’s plan “to send terrorists to the United States” in the bin (It is hammily acted). The political dilemma is clear: under what possible conditions would a member of Congress vote to resettle a Guantanamo inmate—who even if they weren’t radicalised against the US when they got there, may well be now—in their state or district?

That the reactionary insecurity displayed by such members should come to the fore in the US is not surprising. This is a country that has long been able to shut itself off from the world, its labour protected by the sheer size of its domestic market, its geography allowing it the luxury of engaging security threats outside of its own borders. Throughout the post-9/11 “War on Terror,” the US continued to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, first in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later through the use of drones for targeted killing. Britain and Australia now mirrors this externalising of domestic security with their offshoring of migrant processing: these are policies that seek, if not to make our insecurity someone else’s, then at least to address our insecurity somewhere else.

But indefinite detention on Cuba, or Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, will not make Americans more safe (in fact, it may be that they don’t even help Americans to feel more safe). Security cannot be achieved by attempting to lock the rest of the world out—doing so is only likely to make rich countries in the west more of a target for the resentment of the dispossessed. Creating an alternative to this method that recognises the indivisibility of security that comes with globalisation, accepts certain risks and builds resilience into our societies, will require leadership. It demands international co-operation: we must find ways to get transnational actors to share burdens rather than attempting to supplant them onto others, whether they be the people of Cuba, Papua New Guinea, or Calais.

But as even a leader as toughened as Angela Merkel has found, attempting to transcend the rhetoric of threat and fear carries serious political risks. Although Obama is unlikely to be able to close Guantanamo in his time in office, eventually it will be seens for the disaster that it is and will close. The issues it holds a mirror to, however, seem likely to remain.

Now read: The Republican torture delusion