Guantanamo Bay Essay

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The United States has leased 45 square miles of land and water at Guantanamo Bay from Cuba for more than a century. Commonly known as “Gitmo,” the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay has been the source of increasing calls for its closure as no longer necessary or appropriate in the 21st century. To determine the facts, this paper reviews the relevant literature concerning Guantanamo Bay to provide the background of the issue and an analysis of this issue to determine whether the U.S. interests in Guantanamo Bay justify its continued operations. A summary of the research and important findings concerning this issue are provided in the conclusion.

Background of Issue 

The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay is 45 square miles in size and is located on the southeast end of Cuba (see map at Appendix A) (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, 2014). The naval base at Guantanamo Bay was leased by the United States from Cuba in February 1903 to be used as a fueling station (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, 2014). The U.S. managed to exact this lease following the defeat of Spain there in 1898 and by assisting Cuba in achieving its independence (Nazaryan, 2014). In return, the United States was “given complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantanamo Bay (Nazaryan, 2014). The 45 square miles of land and water at Guantanamo Bay were originally intended for use a fueling station and its mission has expanded significantly in the years since (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, 2014). 

Today, the U.S. Naval Base there has a number of missions besides serving as a prison, including the provision of support for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard as well as allied countries vessels for operation in the Caribbean region through logistical support and contingency and planning. The United States is obligated to pay Cuba $4,095 a year for the Guantanamo Bay lease, but Fidel and then Raol Castro have refused the payments since 1960 (Nazaryan, 2014). In addition, Guantanamo Bay also provides assistance to the Department of Homeland Security in facilitating the relocation of displaced migrants (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, 2014). 

The base also contains recreational and comfort facilities for the service members stationed there, including a McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Windjammer Café, outdoor movie theaters, a bowling alley, a golf course and a skate park (Nazaryan, 2014). The most notorious facilities at Guantanamo Bay by far, though, is the prison at “Camp 7” that is used to house suspected terrorists, an issue that has assumed enormous importance since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Persian Gulf wars. An analysis of the issues that are involved in keeping Guantanamo Bay open is provided below.

Analysis of Issue

Since 2002, the U.S. government has detained alleged enemy combatants in the War on Terror at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Guantanamo) in Cuba (Constitutional Law - Guantanamo Habeas - D.C. Circuit Holds That Petitioner Was Properly Detained as ‘Part Of’ Enemy Force, 2014, p. 2138). Today, despite more than half of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay having been recommended for transfer out of the detention center by a presidential task force, these prisoners remain incarcerated (Constitutional Law - Guantanamo Habeas - D.C. Circuit Holds That Petitioner Was Properly Detained as ‘Part Of’ Enemy Force, 2014, p. 2138). During both presidential campaigns, President Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, a promise he reiterated during his 2014 State of the Union address (Gerstein, 2014). Speaking before a joint session of Congress, President Obama made his position about the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay absolutely clear:  

With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world. (cited in Gerstein, 2014, para. 2)

Notwithstanding the U.S. Defense Department’s assertions to the contrary that the Guantanamo naval base is essential to the nation’s security interests, many analysts argue that the base should be closed -- and closed today. Indeed, Nazaryan (2014) emphasizes that, “Guantanamo Bay evokes morbid images the world over, but the place is, let's be honest, fundamentally ridiculous, so bizarre that you have to laugh at its existence. It may be tantamount to laughter at a funeral, but it's laughter all the same” (p. 1). Although many observers may not be laughing, they are concerned about the rationale and necessity of maintaining a naval base just 60 miles from the United States irrespective of its expanded mission.

Moreover, many legal analysts point out that the manner in which the dozen or so terrorist suspects are being detained may not be legal in the first place. In this regard, McDonald (2013) reports that, “The justifications used to detain most of the suspected terrorists in camps are, as nearly everyone with any knowledge of constitutional law agrees, ridiculous” (p. 702). Although there is come controversy concerning the specific constitutional provisions that are applicable outside the United States, a trial by jury is a fundamental right that should be applied to Guantanamo Bay as well (McDonald, 2013). As McDonald (2013) concludes, “Therefore, the government cannot lawfully conduct trials in Guantanamo Bay without adhering to the Jury Trial Clause of the Sixth Amendment” (2013, p. 702).

Beyond the foregoing, the naval base at Guantanamo Bay is enormously expensive and the U.S. is not receiving a good return on this investment even though Cuba refuses the $4,095 lease payment each year. For instance, according to Eichenwald (2014), “Macho preening does not enhance national security. Nor does lying. Or flushing away hundreds of millions of dollars. But somehow such nonsense has become accepted dogma among America's political conservatives when it comes to the Guantanamo Bay detention center” (p. 37). 

Certainly, the American taxpayers deserve to know how the tens of millions of dollars being spent on the Guantanamo Bay base each year and what impact all of these resources are having on the global war on terror, and having learned the accurate information about what goes on at the base, most Americans probably would object to the reality of the situation. For example, Eichenwald (2014) points out that, “All of these expenditures might make sense if Guantanamo served a purpose, but it doesn't” (p. 37). The purported purpose of the Guantanamo Bay detention center is to attempt to obtain intelligence from terrorist suspects (e.g. waterboarding), but even this purpose becomes flimsy when held up to the light of day. According to Eichenwald (2014), “None of these detainees have any actionable intelligence after more than a decade of being locked up (and if they haven't given up the information by now, they never will)” (p. 37). 

According to Ha (2013), “The Guantanamo prison has been central to the U.S.'s anti-terrorism policy” (p. 23). In spite of the U.S. government’s position that the dozen or so terrorist suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay are threats to the nation’s security, though, Eichenwald and likeminded analysts agree that the Guantanamo Bay naval base is an anachronism in the 21st century that has long outlived its utility to the nation’s security interests. As Eichenwald concludes, “Guantanamo is a failure--legally, morally, strategically and financially. The only thing it is good for is making politicians look tough. And America shouldn't be wasting its money and reputation for that” (emphasis added) (2014, p. 37). Indeed, America’s money and reputation have been squandered if the results to date are any indication. For example, according to Conniff (2013), growing international outrage over the treatment of the suspected terrorists housed in the Guantanamo Bay detention center has damaged the credibility of the United States. In this regard, Conniff (2013) notes that, “Now, the spectacle of military medics force-feeding hunger-striking detainees, many of whom have been held for more than eleven years without trial, has stirred public outrage about the whole extralegal system of detention at Guantanamo” (p. 9). 

Besides waterboarding, terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay have also been force-fed by military medics when they went on hunger strikes. The largest hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay took place between 2005 and 2006 when between 150 and 200 male prisoners who were protesting their innocence, the conditions in which they were being detained, their lack of legal representation and being detained indefinitely (Howland, 2013). Other issues under protest by the hunger-strikers during 2005 and 2006 included denial of opportunities to observe their religious practices, torture, and even putting drugs in the prisoners’ food (Howland, 2013). In sum, the terrorist suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay are being held as “unlawful enemy combatants” who violated the law by seeking to challenge the legitimacy of the United States (Howland, 2013). In response to the force-feedings, the cover of the Economist proclaimed:  “’Unjust, unwise,….....

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Conniff, R. (2013, June). No excuse on Guantanamo. The Progressive, 77(6), 8-10.

Constitutional Law - Guantanamo Habeas - D.C. Circuit holds that petitioner was properly     detained as ‘part of’ enemy force. Harvard Law Review, 127(7), 2138-2144.

Eichenwald, K. (2014, August 15). Guantanamo Bay is a stunningly expensive failure.     Newsweek, 163(6), 37.

Falk, R. & Juergensmeyer, M. (2012). Legality and legitimacy in global affairs. New York:      Oxford University Press. 

Gerstein, J. (2014, January 28). Politico. Retrieved from     2014/01/state-of-the-union-guantanamo-bay-prison-102765.html.

Ha, J. (2013, Winter). Coverage of Guantanamo Bay less negative for Obama. Newspaper     Research Journal, 34(1), 22-25.

Hughes, B. (2013, May 5). What could Obama do about Guantanamo Bay? Examiner     (Washington, DC), 11.

Jakes, L. (2013, November 25). Clock ticking at Guantanamo Bay. Telegraph - Herald     (Dubuque), 8.

McDonald, T. (2013, January 1). A few good angry men: Application of the Jury Trial Clause of     
    the Sixth Amendment to non-citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay. American University     
    Law Review, 62(3), 701-705.

Metcalf, H. & Resnik, J. (2013, June). Gideon at Guantanamo: Democratic and despotic     detention. The Yale Law Journal, 122(8), 2504-2522.

Nazaryan, A. (2014, April 11). Guantanamo Bay is the most ridiculous place on earth.     Newsweek, 162(14), 1.

Silverglate, H. (2013, June). Guantanamo pushback: How principled men and women in the     military justice system resisted encroachments on civil liberties. Reason, 45(2), 66-69.

U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. (2014). U.S. Navy. Retrieved from http://www.
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