op-ed

Compromising security for political pandering

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We stepped out of a military transport plane onto the grounds of what has become an almost mythical place, surrounded by more misinformation, incorrect assumptions, and rumor than fact. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is a place that few people get to visit, which contributes to the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding—perpetuated by the liberal left and many in the mainstream media.

The Obama administration, in their push to close Guantanamo Bay, to “improve” our world standing as a country, has succumbed to letting untruths dictate the popular storyline about how the United States treats its detainees. Rather than expend the effort to correct what has become blatant fabrications, they have instead conceded to political pressure.

Simply put, Guantanamo Bay has been, and remains, the best option to house terrorist detainees that pose a threat to our national security—at home and abroad. Let me be clear, at Guantanamo Bay are some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world—some of whom have succeeded in their plots to kill American citizens and soldiers. Yet, despite their record of plotting attacks on civilians, beheadings, and hiding in mosques and among women and children, our military personnel provide the detainees with a host of rights, privileges, and respect.

Among the rights and privileges extended to detainees include 24/7 medical service, composed of things like routine colonoscopies for all detainees over 50, annual dental checkup, eye exams, physical therapy, mental health services, and one medical staffer for every two detainees. Detainees are afforded anywhere from four to 20 hours of outdoor recreation daily, are allowed unmonitored legal communication, have access to more than 15,000 books, magazines, and DVDs in 18 languages, and are allowed to observe their religious customs. Cultural and dietary needs are met, with each detainee receiving up to 6,800 calories per day, with six menus from which to choose.

That is the reality of Guantanamo Bay, not the storyline the Obama administration has allowed to fester. There have simply been no credible allegations of detainee abuse or torture at Guantanamo. Additionally, every foreign emissary who has visited the detention facility has been impressed with how well it is run, and with the rights we afford detainees compared to other detention facilities around the world.

Yet, despite these facts, President Obama seemingly remains committed to following through on political promises made on the campaign trail. My question for the President is: what cost are you willing to pay for political pandering?

Housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is our best available option—certainly better than moving detainees to our heartland in Illinois at the Thomson Correction Center. By keeping terrorists off of mainland soil, we minimize the threat of attacks on our citizens—particularly given the geographical isolation of Guantanamo Bay, which is protected by natural barriers. Additionally, with a 12.6 trillion national debt and a projected budget deficit of 1.3 trillion, it is simply incomprehensible to me that we would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make our country less safe.

Furthermore, in addition to preserving the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, we should preserve the Military Commissions Act for trying these detainees, instead of switching to civilian courts. The Military Commissions Act, first established by the Bush administration in 2001, and approved by a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2006 and 2009, establishes a system of wartime justice that provides a fair trial, with legal rights for the accused, while protecting our national security.

We must also uphold this time-honored tradition: terrorists who cannot be prosecuted should not be released. This is particularly true given that it is possible that no other country would agree to take in these released detainees, meaning that they could in fact be released onto America’s streets. A clear example of the potential for this to happen is the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Slahi is one of the most dangerous terrorists being held at Guantanamo—a recruiter for three of the 9/11 suicide pilots and an admitted member of the global jihad who has sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden. On March 22, a federal judge ordered that Slahi be released. Thankfully, the Obama administration has decided to appeal this ruling, but if it stands—then what?

As a nation, we should be proud of how we treat terrorist detainees—particularly those at Guantanamo Bay. Decisions on the future of where we house these detainees should be based on reality, not misinformation or political pandering. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to move detainees to a less safe facility where they will receive the same treatment they are currently receiving, we should educate our citizens and the world about exactly how we treat terrorists—even those that have killed Americans. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems content to pay an exceptionally high price for political pandering—hundreds of millions of dollars we don’t have and, even worse, degrading the national security of our country. To me, the safety of our citizens is always too high a price to pay. While I too would prefer that the United States is liked by the entire world, it is far more important that we have their respect; and, especially for our adversaries, their fear.

Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, MD, represents Georgia’s 11 Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.