The War on Terrorism is Not Over

By Beacon Staff

As we honored our veterans on Memorial Day, I stood troubled at our Commander-in-Chief’s position regarding Guantanamo Bay, a.k.a. Gitmo. As much as I respect our President, I fundamentally disagree with his assessment that moving the detainees to U.S. territory is in our nation’s best interest. His argument to close Gitmo is based on three main points. The first is a moral claim that establishing Gitmo was a mistake and he is simply righting a wrong that he inherited. The second is a legal claim that the U.S. court system can deliver appropriate justice. And finally, as a matter of practicality, he points out that U.S. facilities are just as secure as the military facility on the Cuban peninsula. With all due respect to a very popular and intelligent president, he is wrong on all three counts and this is why.

The first argument is moral. Stating that the previous administration’s decision to hold terrorists at Gitmo was a mistake quickly unravels when taken in the context of defining the nature of a jihadist terrorist in the post-9/11 world. How do you define a Taliban fighter whose sole purpose in life is to serve God by killing you? Referred to as “foreign” fighters by Afghans, the typical Taliban terrorist identifies himself with an ideology rather than any allegiance to a country. As such, he is neither subject to the Geneva Convention as a Prisoner of War or a nation’s criminal court. He is different than previous combatants and his dangerous status is commensurate with the horrific consequences of his actions. The choices of what to do with these terrorists were few, the stakes were high and the military did what they were asked to do. No good option existed and the decision to establish Gitmo was both reasonable and moral in a time of war.

The second augment is legal. President Obama supports transferring jurisdiction from a military tribunal to a trial by jury in our civilian court system. The problems associated with transferring prosecution authority are surmountable and include everything from how evidence was obtained on the battlefield to the use of interrogation tactics to protect American citizens against future attacks. The military is not a law enforcement agency and evidence collected in time of war is different than a crime scene. Bullet casings are not neatly tucked into plastic bags and Miranda rights are not given. As a former commander of Special Operations Forces in Iraq, I can say that those individuals being held as detainees are not there by accident. Appearing on the military’s High Value Target list, (similar to the FBI’s most wanted list) is the result of hundreds of hours of intelligence collection and analysis. Do we really want to disclose how our military and intelligence agencies collect intelligence during a trial by jury? Is the standard of evidence and justice for foreign fighter’s the same as for our citizens? The short answer is “no.”

The final argument is one of detention security. On this point, the President is correct in that the U.S. has a number of facilities within our borders that are just as secure as Gitmo. The issue here is what is the point? U.S. prisons are already overcrowded and transferring 280 high security detainees will simply exasperate the problem. Coupled with the increased costs of displacing existing inmates, this decision does nothing to make us safer.

Closing Gitmo is a mistake and will not lead to solving the underlying issue of what to do with unrepentant terrorists whose only allegiance is to an ideology sworn to destroy us. I agree that the Obama administration inherited Gitmo and the circumstances surrounding the continued use are less than ideal. But transferring the detainees to U.S. soil to conduct trials by jury is misguided and fails to recognize either the practicality or the future consequences on the battlefield.

If there is fault to be had, I would respectfully suggest it was a failure to resolve the issue in a timely manner by either convicting them under the rules of a military tribunal or sending them back to their country of origin. It now falls upon the Obama administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress to decide the future of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. As we remember those who have fought, we should all recognize that the War on Terrorism is not over and closing Gitmo may just lead to a catastrophic reminder.

Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, was a commander in the U.S. Navy (Ret.)