GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
What to do with Guantánamo detainees?
, March 7, 2009
In waging its war on terrorists, the US could learn from the British Empire's suppression of the vicious Thuggee cult that once thrived in India, writes Joseph Poprzeczny.At the top of new American President Barack Obama's executive decision list is his internationally-publicised announcement on the closure, in one year's time, of Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.
The controversial facility, situated within Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, houses three camps, one of which has already been shut down.
They became operational after former President George W. Bush, in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, declared that "extraordinary times required extraordinary measures".
The camps have been at the centre of a legal challenge (US Supreme Court, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
, June 29, 2006) and ongoing disputation, especially between Republicans and Democrats.
Barack Obama has long declared that their existence has "shamed America". On January 21 this year, he announced that he wanted all proceedings by the Guantánamo Military Commission (GMC) against internees suspended for 120 days, and gave Department of Justice lawyers a year's deadline to close the detention centre.
However, his call failed to win the backing of the chief military judge at Guantánamo Bay, who, until Obama's announcement, was overseeing the high-profile case involving Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Al-Nashiri, a Saudi, was on trial for allegedly masterminding the October 2000 bombing of the American destroyer, USS Cole
, killing 17 American sailors and injuring many more.
In 1996 he had met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Two years later, the pair resolved to launch suicide attacks on American, and perhaps other, ships plying the waters off Aden by using boats loaded with high explosives.
Al-Nashiri's first attempt, early in 2000, on the guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans
failed because his attack craft was overloaded with explosives and sank.
But the later attack on USS Cole
was successful and was followed with an attack on the 157,000-tonne French oil tanker, MV Limburg
, which was damaged and a Bulgarian crewman killed.
Al-Nashiri was captured in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 and briefly detained in a secret CIA penitentiary, after which he was dispatched to Guantánamo Bay.
Chief military judge at Guantánamo Bay, Colonel James Pohl, said that he found the Obama Administration's arguments for suspending all proceedings against internees "unpersuasive" and that the al-Nashiri case should proceed because "the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment". (Washington Post
, January 20, 2009).
Guantánamo Bay has another 245 similar detainees, if not all as notorious as al-Nashiri, with up to 80 likely to be tried and the rest set free.
Guantánamo Bay once held about twice that number. About 60 of those already released are either known, or suspected, to have returned to frontline terrorist activities.
Given this one-in-four recidivist level, the release of any more of these inmates may well seriously demoralise American forces and security agencies engaged in the war on terrorism.
To compound Obama's likely problems, another high-profile Guantánamo Bay detainee is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind for al-Qaeda's murderous suicide-airliner attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.
If Mohammed were ever to be released, or managed to escape, it would be an international catastrophe akin to Napoleon Bonaparte escaping imprisonment on the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1814. Within a year he regained mastery of France. This led to the costly and unnecessary Battle of Waterloo, during which Wellington lost 15,000 men dead and wounded.
In waging its war on terrorists, the US could learn from the British Empire's suppression of the vicious Thuggee cult that once thrived in India.
"Thug" is an Anglo-Indian word for a murderous cult of wandering highwaymen, adept at strangling to death unsuspecting travellers.
Up to 100,000 deaths are attributed to Thuggee during its 150-years-long killing spree which the British largely brought to an end by 1840.
Rather like America's various intelligence bodies under-estimating al-Qaeda before 9/11, British colonial officials in India were initially slow in grasping the gravity of the Thuggee problem. But like America after 9/11, the British quickly turned the tables on their terrorist enemy by transforming the hunters into the hunted. They managed to stamp out Thuggee within 30 years.Suspected terrorists
Unlike Obama's leniency towards suspected terrorists, Britain's war on the Thugs was remorseless, involving not only ongoing trials and executions but also deportation to isolated locations - for life.
"No Thug lifer was ever paroled," writes British historian Dr Mike Dash, author of Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult
"Even when the convict settlements at Penang and Singapore were closed down between 1867 and 1873, and many of the prisoners freed, the 250 Thugs found there were simply transferred to a brand new penal colony being established in the Andaman Islands."- Joseph Poprzeczny