US President Barack Obama is desperate to fulfill a 2008 campaign pledge to close Guantanamo Detention Centre based in Cuba before he leaves office in a matter of months.
On February 23, he laid out his plan to close the military prison, set up by his predecessor George W. Bush in 2002 as an interrogation and holding centre for terror suspects and war criminals. Obama argues that keeping Guantanamo open is counterproductive, contravenes US values and above all, is too costly to run—just over 91 detainees are still held there but the government spent upwards of $450 million last year in operational costs.
Several detainees are yet to be charged or convicted for terrorist-related offences and over the years, some of them have been cleared for release or transfer to other countries, including two Yemenis, Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al Dhuby, who were transferred to Ghana in January.
Obama urged lawmakers to back his plan to transfer at least 60 others deemed a threat to National Security to a facility in the US. Previous attempts to do the same have been bitterly fought by mostly Republicans, but who are at the moment all at sea.
But with a majority opposition-held Congress and regulation prohibiting the use of federal funds to “transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to or within the United States and the construction, modification or acquisition of any facility in the United States to house any Guantanamo detainee,” it will still be next to impossible for Obama to get his way.
He can however talk to another embattled colleague, South African President Jacob Zuma, into taking the prisoners in. The latter’s infamous Nkandla residence is just the right place. With extensive grounds, multiple structures and several security features already in place, Nkandla is good to go but if the Americans wish, they can remodel, modify or buff up the place, at their own cost of course—bills there are now a touchy issue.
For years, human rights activists have accused US authorities of treating the detainees inhumanely. Given that Nkandla is fitted with amenities including a pool and even an amphitheatre, this would be one opportunity to make it up to the aggrieved prisoners.
Surely, Zuma didn’t think he’d retire to a quiet life there come end of his tenure! Even if he does pay back “some of the money” spent on upgrades on the property as he offered to do following months of pestering and heckling from mostly Julius Malema and his opposition Economic Freedom Fighters Party, Nkandla is likely to get the same treatment apartheid-era statues including Cecil Rhodes’ got from disgruntled youths.
If Zuma is smart, he’ll cut a deal with the Americans that will not only see him not paying anything back at all but also boosting the economy, which is hanging on for deal life at the moment, so much so that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan called on South Africans to do everything in their power to avoid a downgrade to junk status in his 2016 budget speech. At this point thus, anything to boost revenue will be appreciated.
If reports that Ghana bagged millions of dollars for just two detainees are true, South Africa can take one for the economy by resettling even more detainees. There will of course be some noise over the deal but let’s not forget that Zuma got elected twice, even after the infamous ‘Showergate’ scandal.
There never was a better man for the job.