Normative Narratives


Conflict Watch: Prison Breaks, Guantanamo, and the War on Terror

Original article:

Interpol issued a global security alert on Saturday, citing prison breaks across nine nations in the past month, including some in which Al Qaeda is suspected of playing a role, and asked for help to determine whether the operations “are coordinated or linked.”

The international police organization requested, in a statement, that its 190 member nations “closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners.” It also cited the anniversaries of notable terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, and a similar security alert issued by the State Department on Friday. It said that it would be “prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots.”

Late last month Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate carried out what were described as carefully synchronized operations at two prisons, in Abu Ghraib and Taji. The group used mortars to pin down Iraqi forces, employed suicide bombers to punch holes in their defenses and then sent an assault force to free the inmates, Western experts said at the time.

A few days later, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped under murky circumstances at a prison near Benghazi, Libya.

Shortly after that, as many as 150 fighters armed with guns and grenade launchers blew holes in the perimeter wall of a century-old prison at Dera Ismail Khan, just outside Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Pakistani police said.

It is certainly concerning that The State Department and Interpol have both issued broad statements indicating a rising threat of a terrorist attack in the near future:

“The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on its “This Week” program on Sunday.

The State Department, and some American allies, will be shutting down embassies and consulates in the following countries:

“Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.”

On Thursday, the State Department said U.S. embassies that would normally be open on Sunday – chiefly those in the Muslim world – would be closed that day because of security concerns, adding that they might be shut for a longer period.

The embassies in the following countries will be closed: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The consulates in Arbil, Iraq; Dhahran and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates will also be shut.

The need to close embassies and consulates is a moral victory for terrorists. Diplomacy, communication, cooperation and resulting social capital needed for meaningful international relations are all compromised when regular operations at these facilities cease. However, a governments primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of foreign service personnel; after the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012, and amidst accusations that the U.S. government did not to enough to prevent the attack (whether founded in fact or not), the Obama administration is rightfully unwilling to take any chances going forward.

Resumption of normal diplomatic relationships should be a top concern, but one that must be balanced with adequate security measures. Recent congressional action highlights the bipartisan support and overall importance of these goals:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a proposal Thursday that aims to bolster security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts around the world in the aftermath of the attacks on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said the proposal, which passed on a voice vote, is a “very meaningful step in assuring the security of missions abroad and the safety of our foreign service personal.”

On a related note, the multitude of prison breakouts in terrorist hot-beds is creating even more difficulty in the ongoing attempt to shut down Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp:
The vulnerability of prisons has been shown in the past ten days with a spate of mass breakouts that have freed nearly 1,700 prisoners in three countries. Analysts said that the four jailbreaks, in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, could complicate the US Government’s plans to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay
There has been outrage over recent evidence that the per-prisoner cost at Gitmo may be as high as $2.7 million a year, all things considered. This is on-top of ongoing popular dissent over violations of prisoners rights and due process of law.
$2.7 million is indisputably a lot of money for a single prisoner/ However, we have to look at in context of the resources we put into arresting these “most wanted” criminals in the first place. Disruption of normal economic activity due to terrorism costs the global economy billions of dollars a year–I will not attempt to cite an estimate because of issues with defining “terrorism” and how open to interpretation the “cost of terrorism” can be. The War on Terror has cost the U.S. government trillions of dollars.
It is not acceptable to pour all of these resources into capturing criminals only to have them escape from detention. Breaking out high level terrorist officials bolsters the strategic capability of terrorist organizations to plan future terrorist attacks / jail breaks–the effects of a well planned jail break can be truly catastrophic.
With regards to rights violations and due process of the law, I think as a society we can be pragmatic enough to realize this is a nonsensical argument. The criminals who end up in Gitmo, or places like Gitmo, are generally human rights violators and murderers–they have no respect for human rights or the due process of the law.
Do you want to know what act surely is a violation of due process of the law and will most likely lead to future human rights violations? Breaking a terrorist leader out of prison. By taking the moral high ground, Western interests would be putting themselves at a systematic and strategic disadvantage in the fight against terrorism that they can ill afford. When considering Gitmo’s future, we have to factor in what the alternatives are.
Guantanamo Bay is far from perfect or efficient, it is commonly referred to as a “stain” on America’s human rights records. However, when considering the alternatives, it is undoubtedly the lesser of many evils. 
Update: I did not want to speculate, but there is now official confirmation that intelligence gathering programs have helped expose this most recent threat:

Chambliss said one of the surveillance programs revealed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden had helped gather intelligence about this threat.

Those programs “allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter,” he said. “If we did not have these programs then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.”