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‘Tough’ vs. Strategic

15/06/2009

Hello readers. I am Amm Sam and I am happy to be blogging for ICSR.  I look forward to reading and responding to your comments.

With the House Republican leader warning us that and transfer and trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is ‘the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America’, my first post seems like a good place to wade into the Gitmo mess…

A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll revealed that a large majority of Americans are opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. 65% of Americans are against closing Gitmo, with 32% in favor of it. 74% are opposed to detainees being moved to prisons in their states, with only 23% for it. This is a big change from a January 2009 Gallup Poll that found only 45% opposed to closing the camp, with 35% in favour of it, with 20% undecided. What changed?

There has been a massively successful NIMBY campaign focused on scaring the living daylights out of the American people. If we close Gitmo, the terrorists may go free! If we move them to prisons in the US, why of course they could escape and wreak havoc in our cities and towns!

Not only that, but they’ll radicalize other prisoners! Fred Kaplan has dismantled this better than I ever could, so I’ll just refer you to him. I’ll add that Gitmo is a walk in the park compared to life in the supermax prisons the detainees would be moved to, if that makes anyone feel better.

If the goal of the US government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens, Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray is counterproductive.  As with most debates on national security, thinking ‘tough’ has trumped thinking strategically. While some of us don’t care about the ‘plight’ of our guests at Gitmo, many more do – right or wrong – and this is a war where perception trumps all.

The center of gravity in an insurgency is the political will or acquiescence of the relevant population. If we are fighting a global insurgency (not an ‘Overseas Contingency Operation’ – an odd label to be addressed in a later post), the ‘ground’ for which we fight is arguably the will of populations globally – Muslims but also non-Muslims; foreigners and our own citizenry.

Al Qaeda recognized long before our political leaders that this conflict will be won or lost through…well, I’ll just let Ayman al-Zawahiri say it:

…more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma.

Keeping the worst of the worst locked up in Gitmo may be what they deserve, and it incapacitates them, but Gitmo has become a symbol of ‘American oppression’ in the Muslim world and a bonanza for Islamist propaganda and recruiting. As SecDef Gates said, ‘the name itself is a condemnation’.

Closing Gitmo and accepting it as a mistake won’t turn diehard enemies into friends, but it will deny AQ a potent recruiting tool. The bottom line is we are less safe as long as Gitmo is open. This is a lonely position – according to the new Gallup poll, only 18% of America agrees with me and twice that believes the opposite.

Why not move them elsewhere? And not just to Hardin, Montana, but to Fort Leavenworth and a few different supermax facilities to avoid the birth of a single new symbol. Put those you can on trial. Send some to Europe if we can (negotiations are progressing), repatriate the rest, and have the CIA track them.

The fact that some former guests of Camp X-Ray have made it back to the battlefield and have killed demonstrates a serious threat indeed, but it does not change the calculus. What is worse, a few guys making it back to the fight or hundreds and thousands more radicalized to violence in the name of a prison camp that can be closed? If they make it back to the jihad (as 14% have, but this figure has been questioned), shoot to kill.

Suggestions that those who seek to shut down Gitmo (Gates and Gen. Petraeusamong them) are sticking up for terrorists are dishonest. Still the ‘tough’ persist because if you act tough enough on terrorism, I suppose that is a good enough substitute for strategy.