GQ: The Guantanamo Quagmire

58 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2016

See all articles by Adam R. Pearlman

Adam R. Pearlman

Lexpat Global Services; George Mason University - National Security Institute

Date Written: June 9, 2016


Accepting for argument’s sake the twin premises that sending Operation Enduring Freedom detainees to Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) was in line with the international and domestic law of detention as it then existed, and that detaining suspected terrorists at GTMO achieved its core purpose of removing threats from the battlefield, and further allowed for the collection of useful intelligence from the detainees, this article examines why the GTMO is considered by many to be a “lightning rod,” a “political football,” or even an “albatross.”

As I have previously written, the government’s ultimate inability to successfully defend its application of prior habeas precedents has had significant legal consequences, including operational law incentives to lethally target combatants, and the development of international guidelines to fill supposed “legal ambiguities” in the rules troops must apply when detaining enemy forces in international armed conflicts. See “Meaningful Review and Process Due: How Guantanamo Detention is Changing the Battlefield,” Harvard National Security Journal (2015) - This article further examines the relationships and differences between law, policy, and politics in the context of detainee-related operations at GTMO. Taking a broad view of foreign policy and international relations, it examines how related but nonetheless discrete issues (e.g., law of war detention at GTMO versus intelligence interrogation at black sites) have been conflated in ways that have long-term legal and policy consequences, and that the name “Guantanamo Bay” is thus a cue for controversies that are perhaps as often mythical as grounded in fact.

Part I traces the evolution of American foreign policy and global leadership as driven by moral values. Part II examines two post-9/11 counterterrorism detention scandals often discussed in tandem with (if not entirely conflated with) GTMO — the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) so-called rendition, detention, and interrogation (RDI) program, and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal — that undercut the moral high ground and human rights focus around which successive presidential administrations conducted international relations. Part III analyzes the dynamics of modern communications and the influence of globalized, decentralized, and instant reporting of news on U.S. national security policymaking, particularly with respect to GTMO and detention-related issues. Part IV concludes by laying out the long-term consequences of the resulting dubious conventional wisdom that several aspects of U.S. detention policy violate international law, and asserts that a significant factor in GTMO’s supposed radioactivity has been self-imposed by failing adequately to articulate and defend legal and strategic decisions made early on, and subsequently adopting the human rights community’s talking points in high-level political rhetoric, which have made GTMO more politically toxic than necessary.

Note: By permission of the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, from the Stanford Law & Policy Review at 27 Stan. L. & Pol'y Rev. 101 (2016).

Keywords: Guantanamo, intelligence, interrogation, detainee, GTMO, terrorism, counterterrorism, human intelligence, human collection, interrogator, CIA, FBI, national security policy, GWOT, war on terror

Suggested Citation

Pearlman, Adam R., GQ: The Guantanamo Quagmire (June 9, 2016). Stanford Law & Policy Review, Vol. 27, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Adam R. Pearlman (Contact Author)

Lexpat Global Services ( email )

United States


George Mason University - National Security Institute ( email )

Arlington, VA
United States

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