Among the hundreds of thousands of cables released by Wikileaks, it’s not surprising that those covering sensitive negotiations over Guantánamo are receiving special attention. News of the detention facility has made headlines for years, and now everyone can see details of secret, behind-the-scenes discussions about the detainees during both the Obama and Bush administrations.
But what may come as a surprise is that these classified documents don’t support the notion that the failure to close Guantánamo is a failure of US diplomacy. Rather, the WikiLeaks documents suggest that Guantánamo is still open for business – and will continue to stay open, despite Obama’s best efforts – in large part because the international community is not ready to deal with its closure.
Related: WikiLeaks: What the world is saying
What to do with detainees
For years, Washington has placed heavy emphasis on efforts to send Guantánamo detainees to their home countries or, ultimately, any place that would treat them humanely and manage the threat they pose. When I served at the Defense Department, I was part of a team of US officials sent around the world to convince countries to take their citizens back and provide assurances that both the detainees and the international community would remain safe after their release. Cables cannot begin to describe the curious nature of these sensitive discussions, which sometimes felt more cloak and dagger than anything worthy of a State Department report.
To a large degree, these efforts have been successful. The Bush administration transferred over 500 detainees this way, and the Obama administration has transferred over 65 more. Moreover, even a quick look at cables released thus far suggests that Guantánamo’s delayed closure may not be Washington’s failure but, rather, it may be the true preference – the deep down truth “you don’t talk about at parties” preference – of many in the international community.
Don't send them here
When discussing the future of the Kuwaiti detainees, Kuwait’s minister of interior told a US official “You know better than I that we cannot deal with these people (i.e. the GTMO detainees).” And while publicly demanding that the United States send all the Yemeni detainees home, Yemeni leaders privately haggle over how much money Washington will pay to have them repatriated. Even Luxemborg fully supports the detention facility's closure but, like many of its neighbours, “cannot accept detainees for resettlement.”
This refrain is typical: In public, world leaders – including many Arab officials whose own citizens are in custody – respond to domestic political pressure by demanding Guantánamo’s closure and the release of detainees held there. In private, they admit that freeing these detainees may not be the safest option – for the detainee’s own country, much less the United States or international community.
What may be the most delightfully revealing part of the released Guantánamo cables is the list of “alternative solutions” suggested. The Kuwaiti minister’s advice: “You picked them up in Afghanistan; you should drop them off in Afghanistan” is high on the list. Equally wonderful is the unconventional proposal by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulla who suggested implanting detainees “with an electronic chip...and allowing their movements to be tracked with Bluetooth.”
As more classified Guantanamo discussions come to light, they will continue to reveal similarly curious negotiations and strange “We don’t want them, but how about you...” options. However, one thing is clear: Guantánamo has long been an issue the international community preferred to keep on Washington’s agenda, despite public proclamations otherwise. We should expect Guantánamo to remain open for some time. But, moving forward, we should place responsibility for that not just with the United States but with the entire international community.