Sunday, 3 January 2010

Closing Guantánamo

Guantánamo [Photo: picture-alliance/dpa]

I’ve just watched the BBC 2 programme This World: Closing Guantánamo presented by Michael Portillo.  He interviews a man from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and asks what he would do if he were president and he freed all of the men from Guantánamo only for one of them to commit an act of terrorism and a huge loss of life to occur.

It seems to be an interesting and logical question at first.  A clever one.  At the end of the show, Portillo asks whether it is possible to fight the fight against terrorism without breaching the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”.  My first reaction was to question whether it is possible without breaching any human rights or civil liberties at all.  I certainly don’t think within my realm of knowledge and experience that it is. 

That is possibly because terrorism (an act where a group of people attempt to achieve their goals by terrorising innocent people) defies logic and reason in every possible way.

So I am the first to admit that I do not have all the answers.

But whatever happened to the respect for the process of law?  Prisoners are being held at Guantánamo without trials and as a South African, I have no qualms in admitting that I think that is one of the most evil things a state can do.

The Western world is committed to due process of law and concepts such as “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond reasonable doubt” through legislation and practice dating back hundreds of years.  Our fascination with the process of law and the gathering of evidence is demonstrated by our long-standing obsession with the crime and detective genre from Arthur Conan Doyle through Starsky and Hutch and Kojak to the massive explosion of the CSI and Law and Order franchises. 

Surely then our acceptance of the state of affairs at Guantánamo and our acceptance of the impending failure to release of prisoners by the deadline of 22 January 2010 is as devoid of logic and reason and as opposed to our natural interests, traditions and ideals as terrorism itself?

Our biggest tool against chaos is chaos itself.  No wonder we are losing the fight.



  1. Gitmo must be closed. Americans cannot be proponents of democracy when detainees do not have the right of Habeas Corpus. The issue may be where the detainees are sent and the receivers of these persons. Certainly, in these times, sending them to Yemen or Somalia for example, may not be prudent. I do believe that President Obama is taking a new and proactive approach to re-structuring how this is done.

  2. @ Cher: I think Obama has a whole lot of rethinking to do here... Since this entire era started, we have tackled the Terror by taking away human rights. It should not be the case. We need to protect what we have and what we had before the attacks and that was a belief in human rights and the process of law among other things.


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