Future Trajectory of US National Security Policy
The September 11 attacks on American soil led to mass destruction of property, besides leaving innocent civilians dead. To many, the attacks revealed just how vulnerable the United States was to the cruel hand of global terrorism. The hard lessons learnt precipitated immediate action on the part of the federal authorities, culminating in what became known as the war on terror, the overall objective being that of completely eliminating, or at least eliminating the potential danger posed by terrorists and terrorist organizations spread all over the globe.
One of the most outstanding attempts towards this direction was the establishment of a detention at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base situated in southeastern Cuba. According to the Department of Defense, the Guantanamo prison was intended to detain prime terrorist suspects, hence preventing them from carrying out attacks similar to that of 9/11. Despite this noble objective, the prolonged detention of such prisoners has continued to elicit unprecedented controversy from different quotas.
Many have argued that the detention has served to taint the political and democratic record of the United States in the face of the international community. It is in light of such concerns that the previous as well as the incumbent administrations expressed their intention to close the prison. A Brief History of the Guantanamo Issue The war on terrorism was officially launched by the United States’ government following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Determined to thwart the threat posed by global terrorism, the Bush administration instructed the various security agencies to implement several classified programs. The specific initiatives to this end included uncovering information regarding future acts of terrorism, with a special inclination on holding personalities perceived to pose a threat within a network of secret prisons spread across the globe (Christol, 2004). The United States Navy base located at Guantanamo was identified as an appropriate haven for detaining such individuals.
Beginning the year 2002, the government started imprisoning those identified by the security agencies as having terrorist connections. The first lot of prisoners was detained at Camp X-Ray. However, this only acted as a temporary facility, and was eventually closed down and replaced by maximum detention camps totaling seven in number. Between 2002 and 2005, more than seven hundred and fifty prisoners had been locked in these camps for a given time frame. According to government records, more than five hundred were still detained as at the end of 2005 (Berkowitz, 2005).
Those imprisoned include citizens from diverse countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Although this detention exercises had been initiated by the U. S. government, a remarkable 86 percent of the prisoners were captured by external authorities, chiefly the National Alliance of Afghanistan and the Pakistan security forces. On the other hand, the American forces only managed to capture an estimated 5 percent of the entire prisoner fraternity (Christol, 2004).
Although many terror suspects have been detained in the Guantanamo prison, few have formally been charged with definite crimes and subsequently tried. In response to the increasingly aired accusations of human rights violations at the camps, the Bush administration asserted that the Geneva Conventions governing how prisoners of war should be treated were inapplicable to the Guantanamo prisoners. The main reasons advanced in support of the argument included the fact that the prisoners were non-citizens of the U. S.
; that they were not on United States territory; and that the American laws did not apply to their situation (Berkowitz, 2005). In essence, the official government policy upheld by the previous administration was that the way in which the prisoners are treated was not founded on law, but as well humane. This stance has elicited global criticism from the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and diverse human rights groups, terming the treatment of the detainees as illegal and inhumane. An Analysis of the Role Played By Various Stakeholders
Since the Guantanamo issue came into the limelight, it has received support and as well criticism from varied quotas. Although chief parties such as the executive and judicial arms of the federal governments, and security agencies were critical in the creation and implementation of this policy initiative, their positions have been seen to change over time, eventually culminating into the current stance which apparently favors the definite closure of the prison. The roles played by the various factions are discussed below. The White House and Other Executive Agencies
The executive arm of the U. S. government has been extremely vocal in determining the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners’ camp. Particularly, the institution of the presidency was critical in the establishment of the prison. In the view pf president Bush, the Guantanamo prison was a necessary response to the 9/11 attacks on U. S. soil. He was of the opinion that the individuals detained at the camp comprised terrorist trainers, terrorist recruiters and facilitator, suspected bomb manufacturers, and potential suicide bombers (Christol, 2004).
In light of these arguments, the presidency was not only seen to support, but as well defend the actions of security agencies like the CIA who were directly involved in finding and eventually detaining the terror suspects. Although CIA strategies of dealing with the suspects such as the so-called enhanced interrogation were heavily criticized by the UN, the executive government constantly termed it as indispensable in unearthing the covert operations of terrorists and terrorist organizations.
In addition to this, the Bush administration contended that military commissions, rather than homeland court system, could suffice in delivering fair judicial hearings to the detainees (Berkowitz, 2005). After the Guantanamo prison became publicized, it began to elicit sharp criticism from various quotas. Chief among them was UN’s allegation that the detention of the prisoners was in contravention to law. Between 2005 and 2006, UN envoys following on the issue interviewed prisoners, who cited being mishandled while in custody.
Responding to such criticism, Scott McClellan, the then White House spokesperson reiterated that the reliance on prisoner testimonies was flawed. He emphasized: “Al Qaeda training manuals talk about ways to disseminate false information and hope to get attention…the military treats detainees humanely, as directed by the president of the United States. We do not condone torture, and we do not engage in torture” (Leighton, 2005, p. 201). The Intelligence Community Critical in shaping the U. S.
policy on terrorist suspects is the Intelligence community. In response to the government’s efforts to thwart the threat of global terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence authorities embarked on the implementation of several classified programs. The main objective behind such initiatives was the idea of gathering information on potential perpetrators of terror. Indeed, the establishment of secret prisons such as Guantanamo where these suspects were to be interrogated was basically the effort of the CIA.
During the Bush administration, the CIA initiative was supported and defended by the intelligence officials, with the main argument being that the successful defense of the United States required that the agency be given the mandate to hold and interrogate terror suspects for as long as necessary (Priest, 2005). Similarly, it maintained that the country’s legal system as well as the military tribunals put in place to try the Guantanamo prisoners should not impose restrictions on the way the CIA was to carry on with its covert activities. Considering the illegality of detaining prisoners in secret places as contained in the U.
S. legal structure, as well as the propensity to uncover information about terrorist operations through whichever means, the CIA established the prison in an overseas location (Cuba). In essence, the Guantanamo prison remained largely unknown even to some government officials, the main argument being such an approach was favorable to enhancement of national security Although the initial plan was to interrogate top Al Qaeda leaders suspected to have been directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, the CIA has since then detained persons thought to have terrorist connections.
In responding to the increasingly aired criticism about their covert operations in Guantanamo, the Intelligence Community has maintained that the war on terrorism gave them the mandate to implement special strategies in handling potential terrorists (Priest, 2005). The Courts The legal system has also been in the forefront in shaping U. S. policy over the issue of Guantanamo. Indeed, the courts have been significantly involved with the legality of the detentions of terror suspects. A closer examination reveals that the results from the court proceedings are largely mixed. For instance, the Supreme Court in Rasul v.
Bush (2004) made the ruling that the foreign personalities detained at the Guantanamo prison had the right to challenge their imprisonment in American courts (). This decision prompted the government to start reviewing the detainees’ status before military tribunals located at the prison. Worthwhile to mention is the fact that the prisoners, irrespective of their nationality, were to be detained indefinitely. The indefinite detention approach has also been challenged in the courts. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) for example, Hamdi’s (a U. S. citizen) indefinite detention without trial was overturned by the Supreme Court.
In response, the government initiated the formation the formation of Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) that would review the status of the prisoners (Berkowitz, 2005). Although such tribunals were criticized for lacking counsel, disallowing their evidence to be challenged, and refusing to permit the cross examination of witnesses, they were a major breakthrough in that they constituted the first government effort towards the effort geared towards distinguishing the prisoners on the basis of their nationality and the potential threat each posed to the U.
S. The decision to try the prisoners in U. S. courts as opposed to military tribunals has also been challenged by the courts. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2005), the presiding judge ruled that the American military had failed to initiate a competent tribunal that would ascertain whether or not Hamdan was a war prisoner as contained in the Geneva conventions. The court further asserted that the detainees should be tried in the courts.
This decision was however overturned by a higher court, which argued that the military commissions mandated to try the suspects were competent and legal. Making its ruling in 2006, the Supreme Court interestingly asserted that the presidency had no authority in establishing tribunals for trying individuals suspected of war crimes, a decision which rendered the tribunals illegal in themselves. Additionally, the Court ruled the Geneva Conventions advocating for the humane treatment of prisoners were applicable in the case of the Guantanamo detainees (Berkowitz, 2005).
Besides the tribunals, an Administrative Review Board was established in 2004 to examine whether it was necessary to continue detaining the captives, and as well recommend either for the release, retention, or transfers to custodies located in their countries of origin (Priest and Stephens, 2004). In December 2005, it recommended the repatriation and release of 120 and 14 detainees respectively. On the 12th of June 2008, the Supreme Court held that the detainees were entitled to be protected by the U. S. Constitution.
Following this precedence, a district court ordered for the release of Algerians, articulating its obligation to grant the prisoners’ petitions and as well issue release warrants as particular occasions warranted (Glaberson, 2008). Overall, these court rulings have challenged the way in which the Guantanamo prisoners have been handled. Interest Groups A number of interest groups, both national and international have been vocal in shaping the politics governing the Guantanamo prison. Particularly, various agencies of the UN have showed marked interest since the issue became more publicized.
June 2004 for instance saw the appointment of a special task commission by the UN Commission on Human Rights, with the main objective of assessing the plight of the detainees. Close to two years after it was initiated, the task force submitted a report in which it accused the united states of exposing the prisoners to inhumane conditions such as excessive heat, cold and bright light; force-feeding of hunger strikers by using nasal tubes; and extreme solitary confinement (Berkowitz, 2005).
Considering that these kinds of treatment were forbidden by international treaties of which the U. S. is a major signatory, the Commission recommended the closure of the prison. In a 2005 report named “Lawfulness of Detentions by the United States in Guantanamo Bay”, the UN Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights argued that the circumstances under which the prisoners were detained by the American government were indeed unlawful. It noted the following in regard to the detentions: “the circumstances surrounding detentions by the U. S. A.
at Guantanamo Bay show unlawfulness on grounds including the torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees and violations of rights relating to prisoner-of-war status, the right to judicial review of the lawfulness of detention and the right to a fair trial (Priest and Stephens, 2004). A similar report was submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2005. In this confidential findings and recommendations delivered to the government, the Committee alleged that the way the prisoners were treated amounted to torture.
Although these and other reports by interest groups were described by the Bush administration as inherently flawed, they were instrumental in giving the Guantanamo issue international attention, in addition to putting pressure on the government to change its strict stance. The Role of the Media Despite the obvious restrictions imposed by the intelligence community in collaboration with the government, the media has played a dominant role in shaping U. S. policy on Guantanamo prisoners. Indeed, journalists have been denied from accessing an inside view of the prison conditions, for instance, taking photographs.
However, a critical analysis depicts their role in revealing the allegations of inhumane treatment of detainees as quite significant. In, The Washington Post publicized information that served to highlight that Pentagon indeed approved the use of inhumane strategies such as exposing prisoners to excessive hot and cold conditions, loud music, and bright lights, in addition to sleep deprivation (Priest and Stephens, 2004). Besides, the media has been vocal in highlighting the controversy surrounding the kind of suspects held at Gitmo.
In 2004, a report by The New York Times indicated that only about 24 of the 600 prisoners had direct links to Al Qaeda. Based on hints obtained from Red Cross reports, this newspaper criticized the military of solitary confinement, employment of forced position techniques, humiliation, and exposure to extreme temperatures (Lewis, 2004). However, most of these allegations were declared null by government representatives such as former vice president Dick Cheney, who constantly reiterated that the prisoners were treated well, particularly considering the grave charges brought against them.
Besides the traditional media, government-based media institutions have also been vocal. In its periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture, the government via the Department of State highlighted the issue of pretrial detention of terror suspects in the year 2005. Analysts have described the report as the first official response by the government to the increasingly aired allegations of prisoner mistreatment at Guantanamo (Berkowitz, 2005). Although it does not acknowledge the truth in such accusations, it raises several concerns concerning the conduct of military officers involved in manning the prison.
A Prediction of the Likely Future of U. S. Foreign Policy on Guantanamo A closer analysis of current trends reveals the Guantanamo issue to have received a significantly new perspective in the past few years. Notably, the pressures mounted by humanitarian groups, both inside and outside the U. S. have been instrumental in persuading the government to change its stance on the detainees. Similarly, the influence mounted by the justice system also appears to have had an enormous impact.
Particularly, the continued allegations of prisoner mistreatment have forced government officials to reconsider the very morality and efficacy of the efforts geared thwarting terrorism. One of the most explicit indications of a change in approach was given by President Bush himself, who in May 2006 expressed his intention to close the prison, pending the decision of the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (Berkowitz, 2005). Nevertheless, his administration failed to achieve the objective. During the 2008 presidential campaigns, both McCain and Obama vowed to close the Guantanamo prison, although each embraced a slightly different approach.
Upon his inauguration, president Obama depicted the Guantanamo issue as one requiring immediate attention. Currently, the incumbent administration maintains that the prison will indeed be closed before the end of this year. Although Obama’s plan to close the camp has been applauded by the international community and by Americans as well, the initiative presents several challenges to the incumbency, chief among being the question of where the detainees will be kept, considering the potential threat they pose to homeland security, as well as the ambiguity surrounding their national identity.
Indeed, the identification of a comprehensive policy pertaining to matters of closing the prison is of central significance if the current leadership is to strike a balance between realizing national security and erasing the tainted U. S. human rights record at the international front. In January this year, President Obama signed an order which suspended the proceedings of the Gitmo military commission for a period of 120 days, in addition to asserting his intention to have the camp closed in a year (Weil, 2009).
The White House Petition was however rejected by a military court on the 29th of January, a move which according to analysts presents an unexpected challenge to the incumbency. Besides this, the lack of comprehensive detainee files necessary in the assignment of a criminal status also poses a major challenge to the current administration. In essence, one of Obama’s major tasks is to gather concrete evidence concerning the estimated 240 detainees for trial purposes. In May this year, the president reiterated that the military trials would be revived (news. bbc. co. uk).
According to recent reports by the White House, some of the significant changes to be effected include the rejection of evidence obtained through coercion, giving the prisoners the chance to select their counsels, safeguarding the interests of those who detainees rejecting the idea of giving testimonies, and the imposition of restrictions on evidence largely gathered from mere hearsay. Supporting the new guidelines, the president has observed: “These reforms will begin to restore the commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law….
This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values” (news. bbc. co. uk). In essence, the new guidelines for prosecuting the Guantanamo prisoners will be heavily challenged. The main concern raised so far is that Obama’s approach is more or less the same as that of his predecessor, considering that he has not embraced the idea of having the prisoners tried in the U. S. criminal/civil courts. Nevertheless, the move by the incumbency has been welcomed by many politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike.
For instance, Senator McCain (Republican) and Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer praises the move as the right approach (Weil, 2009). In a nutshell, the initiative of prosecuting the detainees in military courts, but within a relatively shorter time frame is likely to see its way through the House and Senate, considering the inherent propensity to maintain a balance between the delivery of justice and protection of America’s national security interests. After the trials are completed, the next course of action would probably entail the transportation of prisoners abroad so as to be released, transferring some to the U.
S. prisons, and delivering the rest to their countries of origin where they will be dealt with accordingly. Nevertheless, the Senate is likely to devote more attention to the issue of reviewing the status of the prisoners so as to ensure that the potential threat posed by each is well-discerned. Nevertheless, any prolonged detention to detain the prisoners indefinitely without any substantial charges will not ogre well with human rights activist and other interest groups at the domestic and international fronts. Conclusion
Various theories have been advanced to explain why nations or organizations make particular decisions within particular contexts. They include the Rational Actor Model (RAM) and ‘hero in history’. The essence of RAM is to shed light concerning the basis of such decisions by taking the decision makers to be rational characters. In determining the right path to follow, the rational character makes such considerations as the alternatives available, the underlying national goals, and the likely consequences of the decision (Allison and Zelikow, 1999).
On the other hand, the ‘hero in history’ perceives the art of decision making, and particularly those concerning matters of foreign policy as heroic acts principally carried out to assert a nation’s autonomy and authority in the light of other nations. Considering the case of the Guantanamo prison which houses both domestic and foreign prisoners, it is evident that the rational actor model has been instrumental in shaping the policy decisions of the previous as well as the incumbent administrations.
Indeed, the intensity of the September 11 attacks called for immediate remedial actions on any government that has the interests of its people at heart. Based on the security mood that prevailed throughout the United States after the attacks, it can be argued that Bush administration was right in establishing the Guantanamo prison as a strategy of fighting global terrorism which evidently posed a huge threat to the welfare of the American society.
Notably, the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo was a rational decision given considering that a significant number of them were not U. S. citizens, and could thus not be detained and tried in the American court system. Additionally, these were personalities charged with war crimes, not just ordinary crimes. Although the this approach was largely rational, the law enforcement agencies, and particularly the CIA went overboard and committed mass injustices against the prisoners, which in essence contravenes the Geneva Conventions on prisoner rights.
Having inherited this challenge, the Obama administration is now faced with enormous task of ensuring that justice is delivered while handling the detainees, while at the same time bearing in mind the potential threat they pose to national security. Consequently, the decision to have the camp closed within a year is based on the inherent urge to right the wrongs done by the previous administration.
Similarly, Obama’s plan of reviving the military commissions not only highlights that his predecessor was rational, but also gives the indication that the incumbent administration does not merely want to base its foreign policy platform on pure heroism. In a nutshell, dealing with the Guantanamo prisoners requires a careful analysis of the dangers posed by the detainees, as well as a thorough scrutiny of the potential consequences for each policy decision.
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