06/11/2005 04:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Guantanamo: Continuing the Conversation

The comments I posted yesterday -- suggesting that we not only close our prison on Guantanamo but that we return the entire base to the Cubans -- provoked some heated reactions and debate, indicating (among other things) just how much Cuba remains a flashpoint in our political discourse. The thread of comments raises a great many issues, but let me address just two.

The first is that the case for handing Gitmo back to the Cubans can be independent of one's view of Fidel Castro and his regime. The argument is straightforward: 1)Our claim to Guantanamo rests on a history of coercion and was grounded in our military intervention in Cuba during what we call the Spanish American War; in that sense, it is not legitimate. In some ways (and here I can imagine more sparks flying), it is not unlike the Soviet Union's control of eastern European nations in the wake of World War II, actions for which the West, early last month, unsuccessfully pressured president Putin to apologize. 2)An action such as surrendering control of Guantanamo might do something to alter and improve the image of the United States elsewhere in the world, particularly in Latin America. I, for one, am deeply concerned about the breadth and depth of anti-Americanism in much of the world today.

The second issue was raised by the comment from a poster that if we start by returning Guantanamo maybe we should also return Texas to Mexico and Manhattan to the Native American tribes that reportedly sold the island centuries ago. At one level, of course, the point is a fair one: the history of nations and national boundaries is often a history of coercion and armed conflict. But the Guantanamo case is distinctive because it is a piece of real estate that we control while claiming that we do not exercise formal sovereignty over it; and that, of course, is precisely why we are using it for its current purposes. If Guantanamo were analogous to Texas, the U.S. constitution would apply to its prisons and prisoners. But because Guantanamo is not part of the United States, we claim to be able to do things legally there that we could not do in the United States. That, of course, is one way to resolve the tensions between our current posture in the world and our long (and admirable) tradition of civil liberties, but it's not a method that is going to make us alot of friends elsewhere in the world.