In recent days, Republicans in Congress, desperate for some political traction, have for some unknown reason latched onto the idea that criticizing the Obama administration for wanting to close Guantanamo Bay is a good one. Last night on Fox News, right-wing super-hawk Bill Kristol came on board.
Kristol criticized Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) argument that detainees should be given “the same due process we give our own troops,” saying it is a political “gift” to Republicans (nevermind the fact that GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham made a similar argument the previous day). “Why not keep Guantanamo open?” Kristol asked, claiming that there is no longer any reason to close it:
KRISTOL: Literally, on substance, there is now no argument for closing Guantanamo. It is entirely symbolic. Obama has shown he symbolically would like to. The Europeans love him. They can’t love him anymore, you know. He should reverse himself.
And the Republican position should now be not just to embarrass the Democrats. Republicans should say it is a ridiculous waste of money, and a little dangerous, incidentally, to now close what has turned out to be an extremely effective, well-run facility.
What Kristol doesn’t understand is that symbolism actually creates substance and the Guantanamo Bay prison serves as a symbol that harms U.S. national security. Indeed, “16 highly-respected intelligence and counterterror officials” told the U.S. Supreme Court last January that holding detainees without due process provides “a powerful recruitment tool for violent extremists…and greater risk to the security of the Nation.” Other experts agree:
— Center for Strategic and International Studies: “In the view of many around the world, Guantanamo represents indefinite detention, torture, and abuse…Guantanamo does serve as a recruitment tool for al Qaeda.”
— Council on Foreign Relations expert Daniel Prieto: Gitmo has “direct effects on our counterterrorism policies, making them brittle and making the United States less safe in the world, in terms of serving as propaganda and an active recruitment tool for terrorists and really inflaming public opinion around the world.”
Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), whom Kristol fervently supported to become the nation’s next president, has said “Guantanamo has become a symbol around the world that is not good.”
Indeed, as the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss noted, Gitmo “remains a potent symbol of American lawlessness, and a driver of anti-American sentiment” and “raises the political costs for potential American allies and partners.” Addressing Kristol’s claim that Gitmo has been “effective,” Duss notes that it “has been a significant radicalizing force for Islamic militants” and adds, “So yes, it’s been effective — at getting American soldiers killed.”