Closing Gitmo is not a win-win plan

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Feb 28, 2016 23:46 IST
President Barack Obama launched a final push on Tuesday to persuade Congress to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but lawmakers, opposed to rehousing detainees in the United States, Cl (REUTERS)

At the end of his second term as President of the United States of America, Barack Obama has decided to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay in US territory in Cuba. Speaking to the media on this on Tuesday, he said he would approach the US Congress. He said it was an opportunity to finally eliminate a terrorist propaganda tool, strengthen relationships with allies, enhance national security, and, most importantly, save the taxpayer millions of dollars. In an appeal to the nation Mr Obama said, “For many years it has been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national undermines it.”

The plan, according to Mr Obama, has four main elements: To transfer 31 detainees to other countries, accelerate periodic reviews of detainees to see the need to continue the detention or not, use legal tools on remaining detainees, and find a secure location in the US to shift the remaining detainees.

Interestingly, Mr Obama stressed how former president George W Bush and John McCain, both Republicans, agreed on the need to close it, and how it later became a partisan issue. That opposition continues even today. Republicans have come out opposing the US President’s plan and most Democrats are conspicuously silent on it. Speaker of the House of Representatives Ryan Paul, on Wednesday, said that they had the numbers in Congress to oppose the plan. In his victory speech after the Nevada caucus Donald Trump, Republican frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, said about the detention facility that “we’re going to keep it open, load it up with bad dudes”.

However, former US secretary of state Colin Powell has come out in support of the plan saying that it is in the US’ “best interest” — but voices of support are few and far between.

Mr Obama also stressed the financial benefits of closing the facility. He said that while $450 million was required to keeping the facility running last year, according to his plan taxpayers would be saving up to $850 million every year. But if the people were to choose between a few millions of dollars or a terror attack, they are likely to choose the former.

The truth is unless a miracle were to happen Mr Obama is unlikely to get this passed in a Republican-dominated Congress. Thus, it looks more likely that the attempt to close the detention facility is Mr Obama’s chance to remind the US of his efforts through his seven years in office.

This also reflects the US’ struggle with its war on terror. While on the one hand it works towards eliminating terror, on the other it does not have a credible plan — not after 15 years — on how to go about it.

On legacy, the JCPOA, or the Iran deal, is definitely a great achievement and it will be erroneous to compare it to his latest Guantanamo Bay plan.

Mr Obama has said that it is a win-win plan as this would ensure US safety, uphold US values around the world and also save every year millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. Sadly, there are very few takers for his argument.

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