Some may choose to call this progress: “In a symbolic gesture, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will accept one terrorist suspect being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.”
But I’m not so sure. If nakedly homicidal plots set off a chain of events that have brought us around to admittedly symbolic gestures, it’s fair to say the West took a wrong turn somewhere. Sarkozy’s announcement highlights the thorough transformation of a national security concern into a circus of self-congratulation. The charges against Guantanamo detainees are not symbolic; nor are the crimes of which they are accused. “We are terrorists to the bone,” declared a recent statement from a group of five 9/11 planners being held at Guantanamo.
And us? We’re moral preeners all the way down to our skins. While released detainees reconnect with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, European and American leaders toss around the Gitmo issue like a vanity mirror. Barack Obama scolds us on the “false choice between our safety and our ideals.” Nicolas Sarkozy says, “We can’t condemn the United States because they have that camp and then wash our hands of it once they close it. That’s not what being allies is about.” No, every student of history knows that great alliances are built on symbolically handing off prisoners in units of one.
It’s wonderful to have a friendly relationship with France. But we’ve enjoyed that ever since May 2007 when Sarkozy became the French president. All closing Guantanamo Bay did for U.S.-EU relations is complicate them. It created unnecessary tension around the issue of prisoner relocation. Maybe if there were 200-plus European nations willing to each take in one token prisoner we’d have a workable plan.