Defining Success at Guantanamo: By What Measure?

By Norwitz, Jeffrey H. | Military Review, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

Defining Success at Guantanamo: By What Measure?

Norwitz, Jeffrey H., Military Review

Brown eyes stare back at me from beneath black eyebrows above a ruddy face framed by thick black hair which melts into a long, well-groomed beard. An orange jumpsuit contrasts with otherwise colorless surroundings. Staccato-like rattling of an ankle chain interrupts the harmonic humming of an air conditioner. The detainee and I face each other. Our knees almost touch. We can smell each other.

CAMP DELTA is a confinement facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where, beginning in 2002, America transferred more than 1,000 men who had been captured during Operation Enduring Freedom, an operation launched to topple the Taliban and to pursue terrorists and dismantle their sanctuaries.1 As a federal investigator with the U.S. Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), I interviewed this orange-clad man deemed an "enemy combatant" in the Global War on Terrorism.2 My job was to determine the truth. Success would determine whether the detainee would be prosecuted or released.3

I asked myself: What is America trying to achieve? What does success look like on a strategic level? Defining success must begin with a pragmatic, candid, and thoughtful appraisal of America's goals. Is there a course of action to achieve them? And most important, is America's strategy working? These questions frame a necessary dialogue to assess progress against terrorists, who clearly demonstrate their own strategy.4

Three distinct missions with different objectives and varied degrees of accomplishment are ongoing at Camp Delta. The first mission is intelligence collection and analysis. The second is detention operations, characterized by humanitarian and welfare issues relating to overall treatment. The third, criminal investigation and prosecution, determines the details of a detainee's actions.5

Intelligence Measures

According to the mission statement of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the primary pursuit at Camp Delta is gleaning intelligence from the detainees, who are considered unlawful combatants under Article IV of the Geneva Conventions.6 Some argue that success cannot be measured if the public does not know what is being learned or what methods are being used. In fact, skilled questioning and analysis has uncovered lifesaving information. Even 2 years after capture, actionable intelligence about terrorist networks and those who are undermining stability in Afghanistan is still forthcoming at Guantanamo.7

The eternal paradox of intelligence, however, is that the exceptional success is also exceptionally secret. Achievements will be obscure if intelligence gathering is the principal metric for measuring success. To measure success, the world must evaluate tangibles and observables. Yet, because of the inexcusable activity at Abu Ghraib prison, the American public demands accountability.8 So how can the public form an opinion as to whether America is succeeding?

Humanitarian Measures

Human rights and humane treatment are criteria used to assess how a government behaves and, by extension, the rectitude of that nation's conduct. History will be critical of what America does at Guantanamo and will ask: How well were the detainees cared for while in America's custody? Were detainees protected from each other? Was there evidence of torture, and if so, what actions were taken to correct the situation? Did detainees receive proper medical treatment? Were food, exercise, recreation, and promotion of mental well-being adequate? Were religious practices respected?

Like any federal prison, Camp Delta's concern is with the safety and security of the detainees and guards. The detention mission is the responsibility of the Military Police (MP) Corps. The MP contingent at Guantanamo is a mix of active duty and Reserve Component soldiers designated as the Joint Detainee Operations Group. During the time I was there, detainees were housed in safe, secure, comfortable facilities that were constantly being improved. …

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