Accepting Guantánamo’s prisoners is no solution says Harry van Bommel

14 April 2015

Accepting Guantánamo’s prisoners is no solution says Harry van Bommel

During his 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama promised big changes in his country’s foreign policies. Withdrawal from Iraq and closure of Guantánamo Bay. Both promises went down well, because the American people were fed up of constantly having to fork out for the fight against terrorism. Obama hasn’t, however, been able to make good on them: the US is back in Iraq and Guantánamo can only be closed if countries other than the United States are prepared to accept them. For all sorts of reasons, doing so would be unwise.

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament and spokesman on foreign affairs.

First of all, accepting prisoners will not change US policy of keeping terrorist suspects in prison, contrary to international law. Characteristic of this illegal imprisonment is the denial of the right of an accused person to be defended in a fair and public trial, as well as the imposition of sentences upon which no tariff has been fixed. A number of prisoners are no longer suspected of any crime, but the US is unwilling to house them on its own territory, which is not permitted under its own law. The Netherlands doesn’t want to serve as a safety valve for illegal behaviour.

Secondly, accepting prisoners will at best result in a partial solution and certainly not the closure of Guantánamo. Thirdly, any discussion of taking in prisoners would distract from the question of whether the US approach to terrorism is effective. Obama may well want to get rid of illegal detention, but in practice he has merely exchanged this for illegal targeted killings, such as those carried out in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere using drones. Obama is praised for trying to break with his predecessor’s policy of illegally detaining hundreds of suspects, but cynics point out in response that Obama isn’t imprisoning people, only because he kills them instantly, pouring death from the sky. This too targets suspects, and there is no question of charges being brought or sentence being passed.

Instead of begging for the release of a few Guantánamo prisoners, the Netherlands could be more forceful internationally in arguing for an end to these and other illegal American practices. Otherwise, we’ll just be mopping the floor with the tap still on. Only a US recognition that detention in Guantánamo is a grave injustice and that an American solution to the problem of the existing prisoners can offer a way out. Wouldn’t it be a fine thing if Barack Obama were to conclude his presidency there?

This article appears in the original Dutch in a number of regional newspapers.

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