Sam Sacks is a political commentator and journalist, the last five years spent covering politics in Washington, DC.
Ask the United States why the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is still open, and you’ll see only irrational answers and fear in return.
Ask someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) about
his or her often bizarre and inexplicable habits – like not walking
on cracks, endlessly washing their hands, and counting things over
and over again – and they’ll have trouble explaining exactly why
they do it.
That’s because OCD is a mental disorder. From the US National Institute of Mental Health:
“People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have
persistent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions) and use rituals
(compulsions) to control the anxiety these thoughts produce. Most
of the time, the rituals end up controlling them.
The International OCD Foundation notes, “If you
have OCD, the warning system in your brain is not working
correctly. Your brain is telling you that you are in danger when
you are not.”
Sufferers genuinely believe that, for example, if they don’t
keep their books organized in a very specific way, then something
terrible might happen to them or their family. It makes no sense,
but they still do it, again and again and again.
They don’t understand that the danger is not real.
Now ask the United States why the prison facility at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba is still open. You’ll get the same fidgeting, the same
irrational answers, and most importantly, the same fear. America
also doesn’t understand that the danger is not real.
As Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out:
“Of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end
of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen. Since 2000, the chance
that a resident of the U.S. would die in a terrorist attack was one
in 3.5 million, according to John Mueller of Ohio State
University,and Mark Stewart of the University of Newcastle. In
fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400
deaths worldwide outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq—the
same number, Mueller noted in a 2011 report (PDF), as die in bathtubs in
the U.S. alone each year.”
In other words, Gitmo serves a better purpose keeping us safe
from the bathtubs that are installed there than the so-called
terrorists imprisoned there.
But, out of fear, we tell ourselves that as long as we have that
prison down in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then the “terrorists” are down
there, in cages, unable to plot against us. We get some peace of
mind; we can sleep easier. Gitmo open = family safe.
And then we don’t think about it. But, as soon as there’s talk
about closing Gitmo, then all our wild delusions of fear well up
inside. Members of Congress are outraged!
For example, when President Obama’s first attempt to close the
facility in May of 2009 was rebuffed by the Senate, which voted
90-6 to block $80 million in funding to close Gitmo, Senator John
Thune (R-SD) made the argument, “The American people don’t
want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods.”
He added, “The American people don’t want these detainees held
at a military base or federal prison in their backyard,
Later, in 2011, Senate Republicans attempted to pass legislation
to codify Gitmo as the primary detention facility for future
detainees. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “Whatever image problems that linger
around Guantanamo Bay pale in comparison to the risk of not having
Graham’s comments came one month after Wikileaks revealed the
truth about Gitmo. In releasing 700 secret government documents on
hundreds of Gitmo detainees, in April 2011, Wikileaks gave us
Americans some much-needed therapy about our Gitmo compulsion. We
were told that Gitmo isn’t necessary to keep us safe.
It’s true, of the 166 prisoners still at Gitmo, roughly 120 are
considered “high risk.” Although, Wikileaks revealed that 160 “high
risk” prisoners have already been transferred out of the facility
to other countries or freed altogether.
Among a myriad of other problems with Gitmo, all can be found
also learned that many of those “terrorists” imprisoned at the
facility were only there because they had the wrong wristwatch.
The Telegraph reported, “People wearing a certain model of
Casio watch from the 1980s were seized by American forces in
Afghanistan on suspicion of being terrorists, because the watches
were used as timers by Al-Qaeda.”
Also, “At least…150 people are innocent Afghans or
Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs and drivers who were rounded
up or even sold to US forces and transferred across the world. In
the top-secret documents, senior US commanders conclude that in
dozens of cases there is ‘no reason recorded for
And, to those who, like Senator John Thune, say Gitmo must
remain open because it’s too dangerous to hold these men in
facilities within the United States or try them in traditional
courts, consider this: Currently, there are 355 people convicted of terrorism charges
already being held in U.S. prisons. None have
Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law faced a judge in a courtroom in New
York City earlier this month to plead not guilty to terrorism
charges. And guess what? Not a single New Yorker was injured or put
in danger during the arraignment.
Gitmo does not keep some irrational danger at bay. In fact, just
like most OCD habits, it gets in the way of us living a normal,
healthy lifestyle. It’s the nation’s most expensive prison facility per capita, with
more than a million dollars spent annually on each inmate. It’s
also a foreign policy black eye on the United States that darkens
each year it stays open.
It’s the setting for torture, indefinite detention, military
tribunals censored from the media, and suicide (six inmates have
taken their own lives so far). As has been routinely said, the only
way out of Gitmo these days, tragically, is in a body bag. It’s
also been widely reported that Gitmo is used as a
terrorist recruiting tool abroad.
For these reasons, the international community has, time and
time again, attempted to hold an intervention with us. The European
Union, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations,
governments, and activists around the world have called for the
closure of Gitmo.
But, rather than taking the lead on this, the President enables
this irrational fear to continue. Bush and Cheney may have been the
trigger for it, but President Obama has cultivated it. He’s given
in to the national OCD. His promise on day one of his presidency to
close Gitmo has been the signature, unfulfilled promise of his
And today, nearly two years after the Wikileaks revelations,
four years after President Obama was first sworn in, and more than
a decade after the facility began housing prisoners of our endless
“War on Terror,” prospects for closing Gitmo have never been
At the start of 2013, the State Department office created in
2009 to specifically handle the closure of Gitmo was shut down. The special envoy in charge,
Daniel Fried, was reassigned. His position will be left vacant.
In the President’s State of the Union Address in February, there
was no mention of Gitmo at all. Prisoners at Gitmo actually watched
the address, hoping for some nugget of sanity to emerge regarding
Marine Corps General John Kelly told the House Armed Services Committee about
the Gitmo inmates’ reactions to the speech, “They had great
optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated
apparently … when the President backed off, at least [that’s]
their perception, of closing the facility.”
Today, many of those prisoners are on a hunger strike. This
week, the military confirmed that the number of detainees on a
hunger strike has more than tripled from 7 to 25. Attorneys for the
inmates claim, “Over two dozen men have lost consciousness.”
Eight of them are now being force-fed through a feeding tube in
their stomach. Apparently, that one option of leaving Gitmo in a
body bag has now been taken off the table.
Yet, reports just this week indicate that the
Pentagon is considering a $150 million renovation of the prison
camp. As though an upgrade of the dining hall will ease the
concerns of hunger-striking inmates suffering from racist and
On top of that, the American people still overwhelmingly support
continuing our compulsive behavior of keeping Gitmo open. A 2012
Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 70% of American support keeping
Gitmo open, including more than half of “liberal Democrats” and
two-thirds of “moderate Democrats.”
We just can’t shake the fear.
And so, Gitmo just sits there, mostly emptied. It’s held nearly
800 inmates. There were only 242 left when President Obama took
office. And today, it’s down to 166 souls, trapped. Of that,
86 have been approved for release, but are barred from leaving.
Plus, 25 are on a hunger strike.
The President, who will be a lame duck in two years, is focused
on the economy, immigration and gun control. There’s no time to
talk about Gitmo anymore.
It will stay open indefinitely, giving us “peace of mind” as we
continue our “war on terror” descent into national madness.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Anonymous user 22.03.2013 22:17
Not only does USA lie about closing, they are spending 50 mil to build a new one!
Lies, lies, lies!
Anonymous user 22.03.2013 19:00
US only wants to keep jailing anyone opposed to its’ terror War vs. World. Any excuse will do.
Anonymous user 22.03.2013 18:49
Eurasian: You fella witness the reserection of the Spanish Inquisition! Nazism wasnt enough 4 them