Thursday, June 15, 2006

Close Guantanamo

It's time. Long past time, in fact. And not because of last week's suicides, but because the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is both immoral and impolitic.

UK Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman told the BBC on Sunday the camp should be moved to the US or shut down: "If it's perfectly legal and there's nothing going wrong there--well, why don't they have it in America and then the American court system can supervise it?"

Good question.

The use of Guantanamo as a sort of legal black hole has done enough to tarnish the United States' reputation, but statements by U.S. government officials all too often make matters worse. As an Australian news program reported, the response to the suicides at Guantanamo from former Pepperdine School of Law professor and current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy was quite impolitic:

COLLEEN GRAFFY: They don't value their own life, and they certainly don't value ours, and they use suicide bombings as a tactic to further their jihadi cause. There were means and methods for protestation, and certainly taking their own lives was not necessary. But it certainly is a good PR move to draw attention.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What makes the remarks even more glaring is that Colleen Graffy's job at the State Department is formulating strategies to improve America's image overseas, especially in Islamic countries.

In Taming American Power, Stephen Walt notes that the deligitimization of American policies can pose problems for the United States' efforts to act in the world. But surely perceptions of legitimacy can't really matter when the United States is powerful enough to impose its will on other states, can they? Walt states (p. 176):

This view is an article of faith among advocates of a muscular U.S. foreign policy that pays scant heed to the opinions of others. It is also dangerously shortsighted. As many commentators have noted, even the world's strongest superpower cannot go it alone in every arena. In virtually every important policy realm, in fact--international trade, counterterrorism, human rights, nonproliferation, dealing with failed states or global environmental problems, and so on--effective solutions will require global cooperation.

The world pays attention when American officials speak, but it also watches carefully what the United States does. It's time to close Guantanamo.