February 7, 2008
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Since 9/11, the biggest disaster of the long war on terrorism
has been the Bush administration's response to concerns about its
wartime detention policies. This is particularly true of the way it
has handled charges regarding Guantanamo Bay, the detention center
for "the worst of the worst" captured in that war.
Amazingly, the administration has managed to make its
public-relations disaster even worse.
The latest bombshell fell with a recent Associated Press report
that Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, head of military detention operations at
Guantanamo, confirmed the existence of a "Camp 7" on base. The
hitherto-unknown maximum security facility is home to about a dozen
There is, of course, nothing wrong with maintaining separate
facilities for different types of detainees. There could be several
good operational reasons to do that.
What are left at Guantanamo are hard-core extremists. They have
shown amazing ingenuity, trying to set up clandestine networks to
share information and even coordinate attacks on the military
guards and stage "suicide" protests. So it's understandable that
the commander there might keep the most troublesome of the lot
isolated from the rest.
And there is as yet little reason to worry that detainees in Camp
7 are being ill-treated. All other terrorist-holding facilities at
GITMO are state-of-the-art, with living conditions as good as or
better than any federal prison in the United States. Indeed, the
medical care for detainees is better than the care typically
available to our troops and their families.
Lawyers for the detainees acknowledge they have access to their
clients (even those held at Camp 7), as does the Red Cross. Combine
these considerations with the fact that the Pentagon spends $2.5
million each year on Korans, prayer rugs and halal meals for GITMO
prisoners, and it's hard to knock a presumption that -- for a
prison -- the conditions are extraordinarily humane.
The problem with GITMO is not the "facts on the ground." It's
the stupidity of government information policies.
For years the Pentagon has taken a steady stream of visitors to
the detention facilities and shown them everything from the inside
of the cells to live interrogations. In doing so, the military
asserted it was making GITMO an open book -- that it had nothing to
Except, we now know, Camp 7.
In all those visits, the Pentagon just forgot to mention it had a
separate, secret facility. This "oversight" is manna from heaven
for GITMO critics, as it seriously calls into question the
The deception is inexcusable. There may well be reasons to keep a
lot about Camp 7 secret. At-large terrorists have their eyes on
Guantanamo, and we don't need to give them any operationally useful
information. But it's hard to imagine the need to deny the very
existence of the facility.
I have made two trips to Guantanamo. I've stood as close to
detainees as the other side of a chain-link fence. I've served as
non-governmental observer at one of the military commission
Everything I saw made me proud of the military -- from how
detainees were treated to the incredible skill and determination of
the military lawyers representing individuals with the same
veracity they would show defending fellow soldiers.
On the other hand, the public-relations officials I met were,
quite frankly, uniformly second-tier. Some had scant experience
working with the media and non-governmental organizations, yet they
were asked to represent the government to world-class journalists
and activists on probably the most sensitive national security
issue of the decade. It's hardly a spot for the "B-team." Yet that
is habitually what the administration has done.
Making the case for GITMO should be easy. All Washington has to do
is be honest about what it's doing.
Whether to close the facility is not at the heart of the issue
of how the U.S. treats detainees and prosecutes the war on
terrorism. Regardless of where detainees are held, the U.S.
government has a dual responsibility to uphold the rule of law
and to protect the nation.
Currently, the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay seem to
be meeting those responsibilities fully.
If only Washington would do a decent job, by telling us
everything, the truth would blunt the unending assaults on U.S.
detainee policies. Half-truths serve no one well.
Dr. James Jay
Carafano is Senior Research Fellow for National
Security and Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation and
coeditor of Mismanaging Mayhem: How Washington Responds to Crisis
(Greenwood Press, 2007).
Since 9/11, the biggest disaster of the long war on terrorism has been the Bush administration's response to concerns about its wartime detention policies. This is particularly true of the way it has handled charges regarding Guantanamo Bay, the detention center for "the worst of the worst" captured in that war.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow
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