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What Happens After Guantánamo?

February 19, 2010
Christian Science Monitor

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When it comes to Guantánamo, President Obama is still stuck. It's clear the detention facility won't close any time soon. That leaves many people, in and out of the administration, in the United States and overseas, wondering: What's next for Guantánamo?

But that's the wrong question. Debates about Guantánamo continue to entertain with political drama and storylines like those in "24," but they typically ignore larger problems surrounding long-term detention that have confounded the US and international community for years. As a result, the American public has yet to face the toughest question of all: What happens after Guantánamo?

This has little to do with the detention facility itself or whether the 192 detainees remaining there are held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or in a prison in Thomson, Illinois. Rather, it's about how the US approaches long-term detention - for the subset of nearly 50 detainees considered too dangerous to release even if not prosecuted and for transnational terrorists captured in the future. While counterterrorism experts stress that detention is a critical tool in the war against Al Qaeda, it represents a strategic vulnerability for the US. Terrorists can - and probably will - use US detention operations as a recruiting tool no matter how or where they're carried out. Moving forward, the key will be to minimize this effect to the greatest extent possible.

The next chapter in US detention efforts must begin with President Obama further shifting the tone of the detainee debate, particularly for those most affected by US detention efforts - Muslim communities overseas whose sons and brothers are detained at Guantánamo and who are the primary targets of Al Qaeda recruiters.

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