According to an Associated Press story this morning, former U.S. secretaries of state Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, at a round-table discussion sponsored by the University of Georgia, called for closing the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The reason seems to be bad public relations.

Opponents of the long war at home and abroad have demonized the U.S. effort to keep the “worst of the worst” captured in the war on terror off the battlefield and hold those who have committed war crimes accountable for their crimes. Apparently, their effort to shame America is working.

At the conference, Kissinger reportedly called Guantanamo a “blot on us.” Closing Guantanamo will not satisfy America’s critics — since their criticisms are unjustified to begin with. They will just find something else to hate.

Heritage Senior Fellow James Carafano recently told the Council on Foreign Relations:

The debate over closing GITMO completely misses the point. Here is the reality of keeping evil people off the battlefield in the war on terror. Wherever the U.S. military holds combatants, it must meet certain obligations:

  • Keep combatants who want to kill and destroy Americans and their friend and allies off the battlefield;
  • Detainees must be held in a safe, humane, and secure manner;
  • At an appropriate and reasonable time, detainees must have the right to a fair hearing if the legitimacy of their detention is in question, and their detention should be reviewed in a fair manner to ascertain whether detention is still warranted (no one should be detained indefinitely);
  • If detainees are suspected to have committed war crimes, they should be put on trial under a legal system that provides fair due process;
  • Safety and security should be guaranteed for the guards, support personnel, and legal staffs representing the government and the detainees, as well as the detainees themselves;
  • The government must be able to efficiently and effectively collect intelligence and protect national security.

These obligations are the same no matter where detainees are held. Today, they are all being met at the military detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in accordance with U.S. law. A legitimate tribunal process determines whether detainees are a threat to the United States. Annually, the tribunal reassesses whether detention should be continued. These reviews have led to the release of a number of detainees. Some have been returned to their home countries or given asylum in other countries, and others are awaiting release while the United States ensures that the countries receiving them will treat them in a humane manner. Still, others will be tried as war criminals under a military commission process established and authorized by law.

Any proposal to move detention operations must articulate how these detention operations can be performed more efficiently and effectively than they are now. Because the government’s responsibilities will not change, it is unlikely that detention operations will be conducted in a significantly different manner in a different location. Merely closing the facilities at Guantanamo Bay is not likely to placate any of America’s critics.

The best policy is to continue to do the right thing: Protect American citizens, respect the rule of law, and combat transnational terrorism. Moving the jails will not change anything.