As Obama moves to shut down Guantánamo — even if he is, in the immortal words of Peter Feaver, just “kicking the can as far down the road as he possibly can without being penalized for delay of game” — we all suddenly find ourselves trying to figure out whether we can somehow pitch in.
Because Gitmo is such a stain, and because we all failed to stop it from happening, there is enormous political pressure even in an unlikely place like Finland to at least consider granting asylum to some of the detainees who’ve been cleared of charges, whatever they may be, but cannot go home.
While this is only natural, and while I sympathise with the sentiments, I’d like to advise against such hasty acts of penitence. Here’s why:
- The Americans themselves don’t know what they’re dealing with. According to the Washington Post, the Guantánamo case files are a mess, and even the new administration will have a hard time sorting out who’s who, why they’re there and — most importantly — what, if anything, they’ve done.
- Seven years in a cage is bad for a person. Regardless of whether or not one believes Bush’s claims of recidivism among former inmates (I have my doubts), radicalisation is something we’d be foolish to overlook. By all accounts, Gitmo is a place that turns innocent men into potential terrorists, and we simply couldn’t be sure whether we’d be welcoming Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
- You don’t send torture survivors to a cold and lonely place. Finland is a highly homogenous, xenophobic and inward-looking society where outsiders in general, and non-Whites in particular, are not welcome. After years behind bars, the detainees deserve better.
- You don’t send potential jihadists to a country that’s not equipped to deal with them. Finland simply doesn’t have the intelligence infrastructure to keep tabs on the releasees. Maybe one isn’t needed; maybe the poor guys will just find a girl and get a job and disappear into the crowd. But what if one doesn’t?
None of this is to say we shouldn’t help Obama solve his conundrum. But let him first gauge the extent of the mess he’s in.
[UPDATE: New info on Gitmo files here.]