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GITMO in Syria – Will the Europeans Force America’s Hand?

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A US soldier looks at a naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Photo:John Moore/Getty Images)
A U.S. soldier looks at a naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo:John Moore/Getty Images)

Will the Europeans force the U.S. to establish another GITMO in Syria?

President Donald Trump’s call for EU countries to take back their foreign fighters or face having them released to wreak havoc on Europe or allied forces in Syria and Iraq has been met with intransigence.

First the good news: The Kurds announced they will not release the 800 foreign fighters they captured. This is despite the threat of an attack on the Kurds by the Turks, which would deplete nearly all their resources and bandwidth. Even though the Kurds have been stonewalled in their pleas with the Europeans to repatriate their fighters, they argue it is untenable to release these forces on the world. (At the very least, it is clear that releasing the fighters would results in opening the Kurds themselves up to attacks, which they also view as unacceptable.)

As rightly noted by Abdulkarim Omar, a Kurd who is the co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the foreign fighters are a ticking bomb.

As nice liberals who never have a good word to say about the president of the United States (and have managed not only to duck responsibility for creating a society that allowed their citizens to become radicalized but to blame the U.S. president for this crisis due to his decision to pullout American forces in Syria), what exactly is the position of European countries on their foreign fighters?

It seems the UK and France are likely holding by their simple solution both have proposed in the past: Kill them all.

A year ago, UK’s Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Brits who fought for ISIS should never be allowed to return to their homeland. To assure that never happens, they should be hunted down and killed.

“A dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain. I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country,” he said. “We should do everything we can do to destroy and eliminate that threat.”

Similarly, a little more than a year ago, then French defense minister Florence Parly told reporters, “What we want is to go to the end of this combat and of course if jihadists die in the fighting, then I’d say it’s for the best.”

(Reported at the time was an understanding between the Iraqi army and the French to kill any French citizens fighting for ISIS that were caught.)

Before one is tempted to applaud this policy as a way to get rid of the jihadi threat, it is important to remember while this policy might have worked on the battlefield where foreign fighters had the status of enemy combatants, these fighters are now in captivity. As such, the Europeans and the rest of the civilized world are bound by the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners.

It is more than ironic that Trump is the one reminding the cosmopolitan Europeans of that sticky fact.

One high-level Brit who agrees with Trump is the former head of the British army, General Lord Dannatt, who rightly brings up the Western concept of due process.

“If there are…a large number of foreign fighters in captivity in Syria who originate from countries like the UK, then they are our citizens and we have a responsibility to act responsibly towards them,” Dannatt said. “That means they have got to come back to this country…to be put through due process and imprisoned [if convicted].”

It seems due process is a sticky thing for Europeans. Even the Germans — who initially said that if the fighters are German citizens, they have the right to return to Germany — are backing down.

“It is clearly not as easy as what has been put forward in the United States,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said before a meeting with his EU counterparts. “These people could only then come to Germany if we can ensure they are immediately put in custody. It’s not clear to me how all that can be guaranteed.”

Why not?

Dannatt has an obvious and simple solution to that problem. “They have got to be held while they are talked to [i.e., vetted] and if there is sufficient evidence against any of them they have to be put through due process and imprisoned if that is the right thing to do.”

Take the current case of Shamima Begum, the teenager who left the UK to become an ISIS wife. Nine months pregnant and unrepentant, she petitioned the UK to take her back. (She has since given birth in a Syrian displaced persons camp.)

“She can’t stay in a refugee camp in Syria for the rest of her life,” Dannatt said. “It’s not right to say America should take her and other fighters and stick them in Guantanamo.”

In 2015, the British government barred the return of jihadis under a temporary exclusion order. But legally, experts say that unless the fighter has dual nationalities, he or she cannot be stripped of their British citizenship (which would leave them stateless, again in violation of the Geneva Convention).

European governments cannot arbitrarily decide to ignore international law and humanitarian conventions to which they are bound simply because dealing with the problem is inconvenient for them or puts a burden on their security services and state resources.

If the West is worth anything, it must uphold standards of justice above those it is so crucially battling against – namely radical Islam and its brutal and arbitrary concept of justice.

Otherwise, the battle is all for naught.

 

RELATED STORIES

Trump to Europe: Take Back ISIS Fighters

Kill Them All: France on French ISIS Fighters

Stop Your Kid From Being the Next Shamima Begum

 

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org