Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., thinks that the United States' detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world." Biden told ABC's "This Week" that "we should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners. Those that we have reason to keep, keep. And those we don't, let go." Biden wants Congress to appoint a commission to study Guantanamo, but the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee seems to have no clue what the practical consequences of his suggestion would be.
Since January 2002, when the United States began detaining at Guantanamo Bay enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other fronts in the war on terror, critics have complained of human rights abuses. Last month, the secretary general of Amnesty International compared Guantanamo to the Soviet gulags, a charge that can only be described as obscene. From 1929 to 1953, 18 million people were imprisoned in the Soviet slave labor camps. The gulags' horrors have been documented by their most celebrated inmate, Nobel Prize-winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and most recently by Anne Applebaum in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Gulag: A History." Men, women, even children guilty of nothing were sent to camps in Siberia where they were worked often literally to death. Applebaum writes that "[p]risoners were also locked in punishment cells until they died of cold and starvation, left untreated in unheated hospitals, or simply shot at will for 'attempted escape.'"
The men imprisoned at Guantanamo are members of an international terrorist organization that has killed thousands of innocent civilians. Most were captured while fighting U.S. and coalition troops. They have provided valuable intelligence about al Qaeda, including its recruitment efforts in Europe, its training methods, especially its use of suicide bombers, and its exploitation of charity fronts to raise money for its efforts. More than 200 men have been released from Guantanamo, some of whom have rejoined terrorist networks and are trying to kill Americans again.
One of the techniques terrorists employ is to allege torture and mistreatment when they are captured, regardless of whether it is true. The U.S. military has confiscated training manuals that outline what a prisoner must do. One such manual seized in a Manchester, England, raid instructed al Qaeda operatives in these important lessons: "1. At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by State Security [investigators] before the judge. 2. Complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison." With U.S. military tribunals about to hear cases involving 15 Guantanamo detainees, we should be prepared for an onslaught of torture propaganda.
One of the reasons al Qaeda has proved so deadly an enemy is that it understands and exploits Western sensibilities so well. While there have been some abuses at Guantanamo, these have been dealt with quickly by the military. Of the approximately 28,000 interrogations that have been conducted at Guantanamo, only a handful apparently went wrong. The military -- which immediately investigates allegations -- found one case of assault and two cases of female guards making sexually suggestive gestures at the male prisoners in one recent comprehensive study of conditions at Guantanamo. In addition, a recent investigation found that the Koran had been mishandled five times by guards -- a fact most remarkable for what it doesn't say, namely that the U.S. military provided inmates with Korans in the first place. Amnesty International's outrageous comparisons notwithstanding, the Soviets weren't handing out Bibles in the gulags.
Since Sen. Biden wants those at Guantanamo moved or released, maybe he'd like a special, maximum-security wing built at the Delaware Correctional Center in his home state to house the approximately 540 enemy combatants now held off-shore in Cuba, but I doubt it. Nobody wants these dangerous men in their backyard, and only the foolhardy would suggest letting them go. Guantanamo is a necessary tool in an unconventional war that continues to threaten American and others' lives.