The Problem of Guantanamo

THE PROBLEM OF GUANTANAMO….If we shut down Guantanamo, what do we do with all the prisoners? This is a genuinely difficult question, and it’s one that’s kept me from being too full-throated a critic of the military prison there. Today’s Washington Post provides a sense of the problem, but only if you read the entire article. First there’s this:

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett last week issued the latest European demand to close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba….Behind the scenes, however, the British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to let some prisoners leave Guantanamo and return home.

….There are about 435 prisoners from about 40 countries at Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon. Military tribunals have concluded that about one-quarter of the prisoners are not a security risk, or are otherwise eligible for release or transfer….But those whom the Pentagon wants to free often have nowhere to go.

….The United States is still looking for a home for 17 Uighurs who remain at Guantanamo. Several European countries with small Uighur immigrant populations declined to give the prisoners asylum….Among those countries is Germany, which also balked for years at allowing a German native, Murat Kurnaz, to return even though U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement officials had largely concluded there was no information tying him to al-Qaeda or terrorist activities.

So Britain and Germany carp, but aren’t willing to do much to solve the concrete problem at hand. At the same time, it turns out that the inmates involved aren’t actually citizens of any European country, merely legal residents. What’s more, European reluctance to take them has something to do with U.S. demands:

In January, new German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised Kurnaz’s case in visits to the White House and said her country had changed its mind. But it took until August to secure his release, largely because U.S. officials insisted he be indicted or placed under 24-hour surveillance. The Bush administration ultimately relented after Germany refused.

….While all British citizens in Guantanamo were freed starting in 2004, Britain has balked at allowing former legal residents of the country to return….U.S. officials informally floated a proposal in June to see whether Britain would be willing to accept the transfer of all 10 prisoners. Court papers show that Britain nixed the idea, saying it would be too costly and difficult to meet U.S. conditions to keep the men under constant surveillance.

European countries that are unwilling to accept Guantanamo inmates hardly have any business playing holier-than-thou over U.S. reluctance to let them roam our streets. At the same time, the United States can hardly be surprised that sovereign countries are unwilling to let us dictate the terms of prisoner release on their soil.

So what do we do with the Guantanamo inmates? Nobody wants them, even the ones who are almost certainly innocent of any crime, but everyone wants to feel free to denounce us as monsters for keeping them. Fair enough: we’re the ones who captured them in the first place (though the last paragraph of the Post story puts even that in doubt in at least one case). Still, what do we do with them?