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Alexandra Cooney:
2010 Winner
FDNY Office of Battalion 9

Alexandra Cooney

Winning Essay

The Guantanamo Bay Military Base and Detention Camp has long been a controversial issue for the United States. Guantanamo Bay was first acquired by President Theodore Roosevelt when he leased the land under the Platt Amendment, from the new Cuban government in 1903, after the Spanish-American War. The lease was signed for use of coaling and naval station operations. In 1934 when the Platt Amendment was annulled, a new lease was signed between the Roosevelt administration and the Cuban government. In 1939, FDR ordered the base to be expanded in anticipation for entrance into the ongoing World War 2, where it served historical importance through submarine patrols. After revolution in 1959, U.S. Soldiers were no longer allowed to venture off of the base onto Cuban territory. It is then when Cuba thought the base should be given back. The base remained in U.S. hands and served as a home to Cuban and Haitian Refugees in the late 1900s until the last refugees departed in 1995. To the present the camp has been used as a refueling port and served importance in U.S. anti-drug operations. In 2002 the base began four detention camps, one of which has since been closed, to house detainees linked to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations following the 2001 attacks on the U.S. Since that time, the detention camps have been scrutinized by outside countries, and President Obama as since vowed to close the camps. Though I agree that the camps have been around far too long and need to start being shut down, I disagree with President Obama in the manner in which they should be closed.

As previously mentioned, the base in Guantanamo Bay has served it’s importance throughout history. It has served the United States in both times of war and times of peace. Operations stationed at the base deal with matters ranging from military maintenance to U.S. anti-drug efforts in the Caribbean. The base’s location is also a vital part of it importance in history and today. It is located a short 2 hour flight distance from Jacksonville Florida, where flights to the base leave regularly. However, by not being on coastal American soil, the camps there are far enough for American civilians to feel a safe distance away from detainees whom have a reputation as being an international threat. Another issue with these detainees is that the individual American states do want the responsibility to harbor such criminals. The base also does not contain any entrances to or from the main island, thus providing prisoners no means of escape. It also provides the impossibility for Americans to travel onto Cuban territory, which is currently against U.S. law. In general, any military base is important to the welfare of a country, but this strategically placed base, in particular, gives the fundamental basis for the idea that ones enemies should be kept close. Cuba is a communist country that does not have diplomatic ties with the U.S., and by most Americans, Cuba would be considered a long time enemy. By having Guantanamo Bay base, it secures the safety of the United States from a neighboring communist nation. Overall the Guantanamo Bay base and detention center alike have served their importance over time.

Obama’s choice to close Guantanamo is a choice bases highly on what other nations feel is the correct thing to do. I feel strongly that international opinion should be secondary to the safety of America. After 8 years, I do agree that the prisons should begin to close, but in a cautious thought out process, the complete opposite of just moving the prisoners into the coastal United States. No individual state is fully willing to take all of these international threats, thus creating a problematic situation which could be the cause of a hectic and unwatched future. The last thing that anyone would want is for one of these prisoners to get free on American land and promote another attack. Even with the likelihood of a detainee becoming freed being extremely small, it would still make the citizens of a state uncomfortable and possibly hurt the economy and industry of the state. The repercussions would be far greater if the base was relocated. I feel that the best and safes t way to deal with the detainees is to grant them an on location military trial. By giving them a military trial rather than civilian trial, justice would be reached and the outcome on all side would be more favorable. Military forces have a better understanding of exactly what each person is capable of doing and the roles each detainee played in terrorist attacks. By giving each prisoner a trial on base, it would avoid the prolonged process of moving each one and finding an unbiased jury in a nation greatly hurt by a tragic crime. Some would say that it is unjust to withhold civilian trials, however the greater injustice comes when the accused are met with a jury of people acting on the emotions of a tragic event, rather than the knowledge that trained militia personnel are aware of. This would also offset the financial repercussions of holding trials in New York. With the economy in a slump, there is already no extra money to go around, but holding trials in New York and other locations on the coastal United States would prove costly. The security needed to keep civilians safe is very expensive, as it is to house these prisoners anywhere other than the detention camps outside the states. Keeping prisoners in Guantanamo Bay for trials proves to be the least costly of the many options. The only further complaint by those wanting a movement of prisoners is the possibility that prisoners are being tortured. However to avoid this situation, all that need to be done is more regular check ups between the government and the camp. Torture is a relative term between different cultures; in one case, I heard of a prisoner who complained about being frozen when in reality, he was moved to an air conditioned cell. I feel it is up to the government to decide what punishment is deemed cruel and unusual through a close watching of what goes on in the detention center. I feel that giving the detainees on base military trials would solve the problem in an efficient manner, rather than simply moving the camps to location which would only postpone the matter further.

The constant debate over the future of Guantanamo Bay can only help to find a better solution in the future. I feel that my solution poses a brighter future to solve the problem rather then move it. By avoiding the costly relocation and dealing with the problem on grounds, the nation as a whole can remain safe and in time restore how outside countries see Guantanamo Bay. President Obama’s vow to shut down Guantanamo is a legitimate and necessary action, however I feel it would create a better future by closing it in the conduction of military trials and jurisdiction for each prisoner, rather than postponing the matter for future generations to deal with.

Biography

My name is Alexandra Cooney, I am 18, and a graduating senior at Minisink Valley High School in Slate Hill, NY. I was born in Staten Island, NY where i attended elementary school until I was 8 years old, after which my family and I moved upstate to the rural town of Greenville. My father works for Battalion 9 in Midtown and my mother is a stay at home mom. I am the only girl of three brothers; Casey is the eldest, almost 20 and attending Wagner College, Dylan and Hunter are in 10th and 6th grade, respectively, and are also attending school at Minisink Valley.

Most of my free time is spent at swim practice. Swimming has taught me about dedication, setting goals, and persistence. As for next year, I am excited to have been recruited to a Division 1 program in order to continue one of my greatest passions. Between school and practice, I am also involved in various community service, tutoring programs, school clubs, and National Honor Society. I strive to keep my self active in my school and community.

In high school, I have always enjoyed my business and science classes, which I will continue to study into college next year. In the fall I will be joining my brother at Wagner College. Although I wasn’t a fan of going to the same school as my brother at first, the beautiful campus, proximity to Manhattan, and the excellent swim team helped me to make my decision.

I would like to thank the Santora family for providing me with the opportunity this scholarship will provide. I greatly appreciate the generosity of everyone involved and I am honored to be given such help in furthering my education.

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