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How Effective Is Guantanamo Bay

How effective is Guantanamo Bay as a method of counter-terrorism for the US?

This essay aims to assess the issues surrounding the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay and whether or not it has been successful as a method of counter-terrorism or simply a huge failure and a black stain on US history(Cohen, 2015). There have been various investigations into the validity of Guantanamo. From the sources that I have analysed, it is clear that there is a general consensus among scholars that it is in fact un-lawful, inhumane and unsuccessful in dealing with terrorism. Barack Obama has stated that Guantanamo is “a facility that should have never been opened and it has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.”(Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2015). In her report, Irene Khan, Amnesty International’’s Secretary General, describes Guantanamo Bay as the ‘Gulag of our time’(Norton-Taylor, 2005).

Background- 9/11 attacks, war on terror- enemy combatants

In the so called , ‘War on Terror’, America’s critical and enduring objectives have been the protection of Americans and the homeland, defeating al-Qaeda and other terror groups of global reach, and promoting democracy to diminish the underlying conditions favoring terrorism (Goepner, 2016). Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States Government opened a detention centre at the U.S Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It’s purpose was the holding of individuals captured in Afghanistan or elsewhere, who were suspected to be involved in terrorist activities. The United States administration considered that holding detainees outside of the territory of the United States would deprive federal courts of jurisdiction over detainees’ claims (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2015). The USA has classified these men as ‘unlawful combatants’, who are not subject to the Geneva Convention of 1949, which regulates the treatment of detainees in an armed conflict(Schneider, 2004). Human rights values have drastically changed as a result of the attacks on the USA in September 2001, where more than 3,000 people lost their lives(Schneider, 2004). Immediately after his election as president in 2009, Barack Obama promised that he would close the camp within one year (Amnesty International, 2016). 8 years later the detention centre remains open, leaving a significant black mark on Obama’s foreign policy record (Amnesty International, 2016). The detention of some 660 individuals in Guantanamo Bay has caused academic and diplomatic disputes (Schneider, 2004), and has left the question of it’s effectiveness in preventing terrorism.

Growing anti-americanism- HR abuses- puts US soldiers in danger.

The existence of Guantanamo Bay and treatment of detainees has raised international outcry. Scholars believe that the existence of Guantanamo has tarnished the country’s reputation abroad. In March 2004, the Pew Research Center reported that US prestige in the world community had shown a steady decline (Fogarty, 2005).The U.S. is substantially regarded by the international community with complete disapproval (Pereira, 2007). Images of detainees leaked to the media have provided fuel to a rising global anti-Americanism that weakens US influence and effectiveness, degrading the Administration’s domestic sup-port base, and denying the United States the moral high ground it needs to pro-mote international human rights in the future (Fogarty, 2005). Detainees are confined to their non air-conditioned cells in tropical heat for all but 30 minutes each week. It is said that the cells in Guantanamo are smaller than the death row facilities in Texas, it has been said that numerous suicide attempts have occurred(Schneider, 2004). U.S. foreign policy has long supported the advancement of international law and human rights, since doing so promotes peace, security, and the rule of law overseas; encourages the spread of democracy; and shores up popular support for American values. The use of torture demonstrably undermined these objectives, making the United States both less influential and less secure (Johnson, Mora and Schmidt, 2016). Leading Non-Governmental Organisations such as Amnesty International and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have campaigned for the closure of Guantanamo and have raised awareness of the violations taking within the detention centre.

Inaccurate information in the war against terror- (review)

Identifying the wrong people can lead investigators away from the right people and make it more likely that any actual terrorists will be able to carry out their plans (Foley, 2008). The administration had hoped that among these captives were high-level operatives who would provide critical information when interrogated. However, over time it became apparent that not one of the initial three hundred captives, known as enemy combatants, was anything more than a low to mid-level participant(Honigsberg, 2009). Enhanced interrogation methods force detainees to confess to crimes to which they have no involvement. Some detainees were shackled in painful positions, locked in boxes the size of coffins, kept awake for over 100 hours at a time, and forced to inhale water in a process known as water- boarding (Johnson, Mora and Schmidt, 2016). For preventing terrorism, this policy is not only ineffective; it is counterproductive (Foley, 2008). In addition, the coercive methods can render a prisoner useless as an intelligence source in that they might drive him insane. Several prisoners at Guantanamo have suffered this fate (Foley, 2008). Enemy combatant José Padilla was deemed unfit to testify in court, due to the coercive methods used in Guantanamo and more than five years of incommunicado detention have rendered him mentally incompetent (The Nation, 2007). Mass incarceration at Guantanamo Bay has proved infective. Guantanamo was set up to hold suspected terrorists, but since it’s inception, where 780 suspects were imprisoned without trial, only 7 face any formal charges (Human Rights Watch, 2017).

Inspiring jihadists, used as propaganda tool

Guantanamo has unfortunately had a negative impact on the War on Terrorism. Al-Qaeda and terror groups of global reach have not been defeated and destroyed. Rather, the number of such organizations and fighters supporting them has risen substantially since 2001(Goepner, 2016). Of course this is not primarily due to the existence of Guantanamo though it can definitely be seen as a contributing factor. The mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay was “the single most important motivating factor” in persuading foreign jihadists to join the war (Johnson, Mora and Schmidt, 2016). Photos of U.S Soldiers torturing prisoners became a motif in jihadist propaganda. The revelations about mistreatment at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay made it easier for Sunni jihadists in Iraq to paint the United States as a villain (Johnson, Mora and Schmidt, 2016). Isis fighters regularly force prisoners to wear orange jumpsuits similar to the ones the detainees wear at Guantánamo Bay, and they have reportedly waterboarded captives(Johnson, Mora and Schmidt, 2016). At a press conference in Washington, Obama said it was not sustainable to keep Guantánamo open, warning its continued existence was a "recruitment tool" for extremists (Harris, 2013).These torture revelations also made it harder for the United States’ to recruit potential Iraqi allies(Johnson, Mora and Schmidt, 2016). (50)

Undermining GWOT- large costs, loss of lives and money

The rising anti-American which grew from revelations surrounding the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, is potentially undermining the coalition in the Global War on Terrorism (Fogarty, 2005). The US strategy for winning the Global War on Terrorism is predicated on creating an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them (Bush, 2003). American hypocrisy regarding justice and human rights may create a disincentive for other countries to assist the United States as the leader in the War on Terrorism (Foley). In Australia and the United Kingdom, for example, the governments are under increasing pressure to withdraw from the coalition because large segments of their populations view America’s treatment of Australian and British detainees as violating the very principles that the Coalition aims to uphold (Fogarty, 2005). Schneider believes that the bush administration should’ve used global cooperation to solve global problems (2004) rather then sacrificing its human rights values. As Benjamin Franklin once said “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”(Fogarty, 2005).


The Administration states that detainees held at Guantanamo have provided the US with valuable information on individuals connected to al Qaeda’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction; information on front companies and accounts supporting al Qaeda; information on surface-to-air missiles, improvised explosive devices, and al Qaeda tactics and training; and detailed information on travel routes potentially used by terrorists to reach the United States via South America (Fogarty, 2005). Certainly this is a major operational benefit, however it seems clear that the costs have far outweighed the operational benefits that the detainee operations have generated. I believe that that Guantanamo is an ineffective way in dealing with Terrorism and that US should review its policy in relation to Guantanamo by treating detainees in a fair and humane fashion. The United States can preserve the moral high ground by adjusting its Combatant Status Review Tribunals to determine adequately the Prison of War status of the detainees (Fogarty, 2005).

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.