The race is on to exfiltrate the Afghans who helped us fight the Taliban, now that our 20-year effort to re-invent Afghanistan has ended. It’s a race, because if the Taliban finds and identifies them in Afghanistan, their throats will be slit. Everyone involved acknowledged at some level that it might come to this, and so promises were made. Now we need to keep them.
One of the reasons some will lose the race and die in Afghanistan is the endlessness of our vetting process. It always takes years to get clearance for one of these brothers-in-arms to move here, often many years. Somehow, it always seems safer for the bureaucrat making the decision to send it back for further consideration than to finally say okay, regardless of how much vetting has already happened.
For the past 20years, those bureaucrats have been especially inclined to just keep our interpreters waiting, because there was so little public clamor on their behalf. These are guys from the mid-east; heck, they might be Muslim! What’s the big hurry letting them come around here? If Americans thought about them at all, it was more along those lines than what we’re hearing now, that these are people who saved the lives of American soldiers and definitely risked their own.
So now we hear calls to “cut through the red tape” and speed up the bureaucracy. Good luck with that! Meantime, here is a suggestion for something we can offer these people, something that might work better for them than staying in Afghanistan: If we have the physical ability to get them out and the hold-up is paperwork, offer them a stay at Guantanamo Bay while we sort it out.
I’m not joking. Gitmo has always been a place to hold men from the middle east who have not even been accused, let alone convicted, of any crime, but whom we want to detain basically forever anyway. As such, it is and will always be a blot on the idea, wherever it persists, that we are a nation of laws.
The Gitmo dodge consists of the fact that the base is not on American soil; that’s why the detainees have no right to a speedy trial, a fair trial, any trial ever. Apparently there is also some you-have-no-rights magic that happens when you dub somebody an “enemy combatant.” Now that we already did that, why not use Gitmo as a place to house people who actually helped us out, while we satisfy ourselves that they are true friends?
Obama said he’d close it, but it didn’t close, and since then nobody even tries to close it. Most of the people who were described as “the worst of the worst” when we put them there way back when are dead by now, or have been released because they were never terrorists anyway. Gitmo definitely has some cells available.
This plan would require some heavy marketing, or perhaps I should say “brand management.” The Gitmo brand is, basically, torture and abuse. Even a well-founded fear of the Taliban may not convince our Afghan assistants that they should re-settle there, even temporarily. Perhaps the base, or part of it, could be re-named. It would certainly need to be explained, repeatedly in several languages, that the intention is not to let them rot as we have done with the original Gitmo detainees, but to keep them out of harm’s way while we continue our apparently endless but supposedly good-faith effort to assure ourselves about them.
It’s all well and good to say that our vetting process shouldn’t, or mustn’t, take so long, but it will never be the bureaucrat’s life that’s at stake, and the process will remain slow. Many throats may be slit while it continues. Gitmo is a very sore subject for lovers of freedom, adherents to the rule of law, and people who hope American civilization is not an oxymoron. We could, theoretically, use the place to do something good.
Eric Kuhn lives in Middletown.