Guantanamo's Shadow

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign policy authorities about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Has the prison system at Guantanamo Bay helped or hurt the United States in its fight against al-Qaeda?
87% Hurt

“Nothing has hurt America’s image and standing in the world—and nothing has undermined the global effort to combat nihilistic terrorism—than the brutal torture and dehumanizing actions of Americans in Abu Ghraib and in other prisons (secret or otherwise). America can win the fight against terrorism only if it acts in ways consistent with the values for which it stands; if its behavior descends to the level employed by the terrorists, then we have all become them instead of us.”

“Gitmo has hurt the US in two different ways. At the strategic level, it has undercut the U.S. case around the world that we represent a world view and a set of values that all can admire, even those who do not wish to replicate our system and society in their own countries. Gitmo has become a symbol for cruelty and inhumanity that is repugnant to a wide sector of the world community and a powerful tool that al Qaeda can use to damage US interest and recruit others to its cause. At the tactical level, Gitmo deludes many in the US, an never more than the senior leaders of the Bush Administration, into believing that harsh interrogation techniques can produce good intelligence and is a necessary tool in fighting terrorist. This 'truth' spread from Gitmo to Iraq and we have paid a horrible price for it.”

“It has hurt America disastrously. The so-called global war on terrorism depends fundamentally on America's moral authority, so that other nations will want to cooperate with us. Guantanamo has become a vibrant symbol of American exceptionalism, but this exceptionalism is unwanted around the world.”

“this one is so basic. i speak as a republican so this is not a partisan comment. the founders would be rightly ashamed of us. we have forgotten, as truman and eisenhower never did, that america's power is as much about what it stands for as for its hard power characteristics. this has all been put in the worst kind of peril by Gitmo.”

“The controversies that have surrounded the system have outweighed any benefit. The main reason for locating the facility at Guantanamo—to attempt to keep it out of the reach of anyone's legal system—was never justifiable.”

“The Guantanamo system has hurt the U.S. and our fight against Al Qaeda. We have abandoned the moral high ground and, through our actions, have become one of the principle recruiting agents for Islamic extremism.”

“Our strongest asset internationally was our reputation and credibility on human rights. We have squandered that.”

“Hurt, on balance, because it has severely damaged our moral case in the world, which we have to have in order to rally support for combating Al Qaeda.”

“Both in the obvious public relations way, worldwide, and quite directly, in showing Al Qaeda that we can very easily and quickly be seduced into wild overreactions. That is just what Osama Bin Laden hoped. Since it worked so well, he has an incentive to repeat."

“It has done enormous damage to our reputation and soft power.”

13% Helped

“The main purposes of Gitmo detention are (1) to allow effective interrogation to provide intelligence for the war on terrorism and (2) to keep dangerous terrorism locked up. Gitmo has helped because it has achieved both purposes. The administration has not done a good job of explaining to the public what it was doing at Gitmo or why—and that has caused some unnecessary problems. But interrogating captured terrorists and keeping them detained and off the battlefield is undeniably important to our security.”

“Islamists fear humiliation more than death.”

“[It has] helped immeasurably with actionable intelligence.”


“[We] can't evaluate without knowing more than anyone on the outside can possibly know at this point.”

“The real answer is, both helped and hurt. In the year or two after 9/11, Gitmo was a reasonable response to what we faced—it helped. But it has gone on too long, the process of thinning the population down to the justifiable hard core has taken too long, and it has become an easy target for a world in which 9/11 is a fading memory—in that sense, it is now hurting.”

“This is a complex subject that makes answering question 1 very difficult. I would say that it has helped and hurt. It's helped in that we have gotten some good intelligence from the detainees. In addition, having them at one site enabled better protection for the detainees, consistency of care and processes, and provided focus for the International Red Cross.

On the other hand, the perception is such that Guantanamo is a negative in many part of the world, especially the Arab world.”

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