By Casey Seaton*, October 15, 2016 (pre-Ft. Meade).
Diplomacy is defined, most basically, as a noun meaning something along the lines of governmentally-representative exchanges between nations. Those exchanges can take the form of trade deals, arbitral negotiations, peace talks, hostage releases, money transfers, media management, land rights discussions, immigration quota standards, natural resource use provisioning, joint relief efforts, and joint war efforts . . . just about anything but actually being at war against one another. That act of going to war against one another marks some failure of diplomacy. But if law school has taught me anything—besides that the answer is always “it depends”—it’s that when a problem arises, so too does an opportunity.
So what in the world does any of that have to do with Gitmo? Well, I’ll tell ya. Gitmo is, of course, a United States Government prison facility, to put it in the plainest terms. As such, it is an extension of the U.S. Government. Given its secretive and consequently legendary yet infamous existence, it has become much more than a simple government prison facility. It has become much more than an alleged terrorist holding site. And it has become much more than a political chess piece inside American politics. Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp has become a metaphor for the bedrock of America.
Gitmo tests America’s resolve for upholding some of our most core principles of life, liberty, fairness, and justice. It takes persons who are despised on a national and even international scale and, ideally anyway, makes certain that such persons are treated humanely and fairly until their culpability is judged. If we as Americans fail in our own courtroom to uphold the principles that we base our daily lives on, our societal structure on, then how can we be trusted, how can our word be honored diplomatically when we promise to conduct affairs outside of the courtroom based on these principles? In other words, if we fail to honor our core values in court, in a setting arguably representing the most direct connection to law in its reddest form, how then are we to be trusted to honor those same values elsewhere?
Right, right, right. That’s some great idealism and all, but still, what’s the link between diplomacy and Gitmo?
It’s this. War itself may not be diplomacy, but the failed diplomatic efforts that lead to war do produce diplomatic effects. The prisoners that end up being taken from one land and brought to and held in another create a situation that, at its core, tests the principles upon which diplomatic relations so often stand.
Therefore, Gitmo is a test and a bridge. It tests our resolve to stick to our core principles in what could easily transform into an emotionally-driven, biased-laden environment. It is a bridge between (a) honoring those principles in some of the toughest situations here at home wherein we are our only critics and (b) consistently applying them abroad through the promises diplomats promote. The way we act in the privacy of our own home—albeit a home on a separate island—should be the way we act outside of it as well.
This Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Observation Project provides a means of ensuring that our collective conduct is adequate here at home. It allows curious-minded, legally-trained people like me to be the public eye on the trials. The problem of war, terror, and the trials stemming therefrom then becomes an opportunity for practicing and spreading American ideals.
Conversely, some view this Project as a concession to terrorists. That is a poor view for one central reason; we, as observers, aren’t charged with rooting for persons accused of attacking our countrymen. No. Instead, we are charged with making sure our ideals aren’t only stated but are consistently put into practice in each and every case, no matter how high the emotional stakes. Without domestic diplomatic missions, of sorts, like the one I am about to make to Ft. Meade, a mission diplomatic in the sense that I am an envoy seeking to safeguard the best of American principles, we lose the benefit of being able to show other nations, ‘hey, we do stand by our promises even when we seemingly will have little perceptible gain.’
Of course, having yet to visit Ft. Meade or Guantanamo to see the conduct of these trials, this is all merely speculative, quixotic prose. My main goal then in viewing the al-Nashiri trial next week, a trial the basis of which IU McKinney student and career military officer David Frangos expertly discussed in his October 10th post on this blog, is to: 1. See if my views linking Gitmo to diplomacy actually do have some practical resonance, and 2. Be an active participant watchdog for American principles. These two goals are of course intertwined, and my participation in the latter has a chance of ensuring the former. I say this because I aspire to be a U.S. diplomat (a.k.a. foreign service officer), which explains the prevalence of diplomacy focuses throughout this piece. As a diplomat (eventually), I can hopefully use what I take from goal number 2 and apply it to confirm the success of goal number 1. I want to see the seeds of U.S. ideology sprout into U.S. diplomatic doctrine.