With all of the Republican rhetoric of useless government spending and pointless, redundant services, people would think the GOP would be pressing the Obama administration to hurry up and close the detention center on the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The military lockup in the early post- 9/11 days held nearly 700 people. But that followed the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, which took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
The early 2000s also brought the start of the war in Afghanistan followed by the war in Iraq for the United States, all-volunteer military. And let’s not forget those well-paid contractors that were hired to do some of the dirty work of war.
People demanded that Guantánamo be the place away from the mainland, where enemy combatants stay locked up. But today a military force of 2,000 people is keeping watch on 91 men. That number is expected to drop by a third this summer, The Associated Press reports.
Journalists were allowed inside the detention center last week, where the empty cells far outnumber those that are occupied. President Barack Obama at the start of his first term in office had pledged to close Guantánamo.
It would have been the right thing to do — certainly now with the number of detainees ridiculously low and with closing the base and the U.S. exit from Guantánamo being on the table in the ongoing negotiations normalizing relations with Cuba. Believe it or not, the U.S. withdraw would likely affect one multinational corporation — McDonald’s — which has a restaurant surrounded by barbed wire outside the detention camp, where only military personnel are served. It is McDonald’s only fast-food restaurant in Cuba.
But the political pushback has continued to be enormous, which makes no sense — particularly in a presidential year — when many Republican candidates offer the usual tax-cut and shrink-government ideas. About 245 detainees were held at Guantánamo when Obama took office in January 2009.
Many have been released to other countries. The U.S. military last year began examining the possibility of closing Guantanamo and relocating the remaining detainees either to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and several other elected officials have strongly urged that the detainees not be brought into the United States because they might create a security threat. But these are the same people who don’t want refugees coming to the United States particularly from Syria because of the risk they might pose.
Obama this month is to give Congress a Guantanámo closure plan. Resistance to it is expected to be intense. That’s despite the cost of keeping the detainees in Guantánamo being outrageously high.
But it’s more than dollars and sense. It is a complicated issue involving national security and people’s fears of terrorist attacks.
The Dec. 2 attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., certainly didn’t help to alleviate people’s concerns.
The shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, disrupted a holiday party, killing 14 people and wounding 22 others before they were slain in a shootout with authorities. They had a stockpile of weapons and were thought to have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on social media.
That tragedy before the Christmas holidays has made the country nervous about any possibility of more terrorist attacks occurring in the U.S. and contributed greatly to the anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, anti-refugee rhetoric rising like a thick plume of steam from a manhole on a cold winter’s morning from the Republican political camp.
Yet, closing Guantanámo remains the right thing to do because of the expense alone. Keeping it open also goes against America’s constitutional values.