I paid a visit to The O’Reilly Factor last night in New York to cross swords with the host over the growing movement to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
When I mentioned that 234 people had been released from Guantanamo, Bill kept challenging me to name one among them who was innocent (he even offered a reward to anyone in his audience who could provide such a name). I was confounded, pointing out again and again that I was pretty sure the Bush administration wasn’t in the habit of releasing from jail guilty people who pose a threat to our national security.
On the larger point of whether Gitmo should be closed down… just do a cost/benefit analysis and you’ll see that the negatives now far, far outweigh the positives (if there ever were any positives to begin with). Let’s break it down:
Upside: Not really much on this side of the ledger. Camp Delta (sounds like a fun place, doesn’t it!) was created with the goal of extracting information about Al Qaeda -- but the expiration date on any intelligence coming out of Cuba has long since passed. The majority of those being held there are not even being regularly interrogated anymore. Only a few of the over 500 detainees (one or two dozen tops) had firsthand knowledge of the group’s inner workings. Even the CIA, in a top secret Sept. 2002 study, cast doubts on the value of those being held… so what are we doing still holding them some three years later?
Downside: It is making us less safe… and isn’t the whole point of the operation to make us more safe? Can you say “counterproductive”? As Tom Friedman puts it: "Guantanamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty… I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if the United States keeps the Gitmo prison open than if it is shut down." Joe Biden has sounded a similar note: “This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting terrorists around the world.”
And all those stories of torture, sexual degradation, forced drugging, duct-taped heads, fake menstrual blood and desecrated holy books aren’t exactly helping us reclaim the moral high ground we lost when the Abu Ghraib shit hit the fan. Just as you can’t be a beacon for democracy while supporting tyrants (paging Izzy Karimov!), you can’t be a promoter of human rights while sanctioning torture. And is Donald Rumsfeld really so deluded that he actually believes, as he said on Tuesday, that Guantanamo Bay is “professional and humane”?
Not even Bill O’Reilly went so far as to make that ludicrous claim.