The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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Zachary DeCrescenzo:
2010 Winner
Long Island City High School

Zachary DeCrescenzo

Winning Essay

“History is a race between education and catastrophe.”

—H.G. Wells—

The race between Education and Catastrophe is definitely on. While our “educated” politicians posture and pose, we careen towards catastrophe and cannot get our voices heard.

What to do about the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center? To me it’s a needless question in search of an obvious answer: Nothing. We should do nothing. It’s working just fine, thank you.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, housed at our naval base situated at the southeastern end of Cuba. America has been in Guantanamo since 1898, and formally since 1902 under the Platt Amendment. We have a perpetual lease to Guantanamo from the Cuban government by way of the 1903 Cuban/American Treaty. This $2,000 annual lease has been paid faithfully, although none of the checks have been cashed since the Communist party assumed power in Cuba. Debate exists whether the U.S. has legally maintained control of Guantanamo. Some argue that our treaty with Cuba dictates that the United States use Guantanamo Bay only as a naval base and coaling station, and that by detaining prisoners these stipulations have been violated. The United States argues that her naval bases will be operated as she sees fit, and that her policy in this case will be to detain prisoners.

Guantanamo Bay currently contains terrorists known to have orchestrated the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and enemy combatants who would like to destroy our country and way of life. Closing Guantanamo would leave the responsibility of detaining dangerous, radical terrorists to U.S. maximum security prisons. And so we must ask ourselves, do we really want these sworn enemies, dedicated to our destruction, to be housed within our own borders and protected by the full legal rights the U.S. Constitution affords its citizens?

After much thought and research, I believe that the repercussions of closing the Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay would be dire, and that the arguments levied against the detention center at Guantanamo are a bit hysterical. Critics of Guantanamo say that the detainees are abused, tortured, and treated in ways that violate America’s best ideals. Having done some research on torture through the ages, the details of which are not discussion for polite company, it’s a large stretch to call Guantanamo a torture mill.

President Obama issued an executive order on interrogation techniques, imposing strict limits on how aggressively U.S. intelligence officers can question terrorists. All interrogations must now be conducted within the limits of the Army Field manual. This also applies to the CIA, which must now give terrorists gentler treatment than common criminals. Even the “good cop/bad cop” routine widely used in Police precincts across the world is not allowed. This gentle treatment for those who have beheaded “infidels” on video for world consumption.

Rights crusaders claim moral victory, but is that really so? In very rare cases—fewer than 100—so–called “coercive techniques” were used to gain information from terrorists who knew about future plots. “Waterboarding” was used on only three of the most–senior Al Qaeda operatives and succeeded in getting information that foiled terror plots. It was not used again after 2003.

And yet, opponents of Guantanamo want more.

Where will these detainees go if Guantanamo is closed? Will these religious zealots—men dedicated to the destruction of America, her inhabitants and her livelihood—be integrated with the U.S. criminal population? The Pentagon reports that as of last year some 61 ex–Guantanamo Bay prisoners returned immediately to terrorism after their release. Does this make any sense? Existing evidence shows that releasing a terrorist does not soften his determination to destroy us. At all.

Terrorism is not a hobby, something taken up on a whim. Terrorism is drastically different from, say, a person robbing a convenience store. Terrorism can’t be fixed because it’s an ideology. Unlike the petty robber, the terrorist can not be taught the error of his ways. Why? Because part of learning from your mistakes is acknowledging that you’ve made them. A terrorist cannot be fixed because he will never acknowledge himself as broken. He is doing what he believes is just, right, even demanded by his ideology. Releasing an unapologetic murderer is inviting more murder.

Moving the terrorists into our prison systems would be a grave mistake. Terrorism and the radical ideology behind it is like a poison, a disease that can infect and inhabit and devour, eating at its host from the inside, and leaving nothing behind but the remnants of its destruction.

In America we revere the Freedom of Speech clause of the First Amendment. The power of speech, the influence it has when coupled with eloquence and charisma, can be potent. But in favoring the closing of Guantanamo Bay many politicians have shown their apparent disregard for this notion. In allowing Guantanamo to be closed and having her detainees brought to our own prisons, we allow dangerous terrorists access to convert our most dangerous U.S inmates. By bringing terrorists into the U.S. prison system we deliver them a thriving recruitment center. Words have tremendous power, and the words of these terrorists would spread like the disease described above. Who knows to what extent the damage would reach?

We have already had incidents of “home grown terrorism.” Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed thirteen American servicemen in Fort Hood, TX. Terrorism is an elusive foe extremely difficult to contain. You can’t see it until it reveals itself. So, do we really need to further complicate the issue by making “Defending America from Itself” another objective in the War on Terror?

I completely disagree with President Obama’s decision to move forward with closing Guantanamo’s Detention Center. Why voluntarily make things more difficult for ourselves? I know that I certainly do not want to live with the threat of widespread American terrorism. Abraham Lincoln famously said that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Were terrorists allowed to infiltrate our prisons, I believe that our continued standing would be most difficult indeed.

There are some detainees that have yet to stand trial. There is also much talk about making some of the trials public, specifically those of five of the 9-11 terrorists. If these trials were to be held in a New York criminal court as the President has said he wants, these terrorists would get to revisit the site of their “most glorious achievement,” mere blocks away from the site of their attacks almost nine years ago. This is beyond comprehension.

The Congressional appropriations board estimates that moving the terrorists, putting them on trial, and keeping them safe would cost approximately $1,000,000,000. That’s BILLION, with a “B.” Are we really prepared to provide terrorists with our Constitutionally guaranteed rights? To ensure these terrorists’ safety and make a mockery of those whose lives were stolen on September 11, 2001? At the cost of a billion dollars! Absolutely not. These terrorists committed acts of war, and they should stand trial in court tribunals like every other war criminal in history.

Guantanamo Bay is another stage upon which prominent political players will wage show battles, pitting their own interests against the best interest of the American people. In turbulent times we need to recall and keep close those feelings we shared when we were attacked. We, as Americans, need to search within ourselves and find the strength that helped us overcome the devastation that was 9-11. Should we fall victim to the bad decision making of shameless politicians we will need that strength.

We cannot afford to let the terrorists set up “school” in our prison system, or we will surely pay the price in future attacks.

I pray that such attacks never occur.
Keep the terrorists far away.
Keep the Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay.


We would like to wish Zachary DeCrescenzo the best of luck moving on to Baruch College. Congratulations!

My name is Zachary DeCrescenzo, I am eighteen years old and currently attend Long Island City High School as a senior. I am of Irish, Italian, and Puerto Rican descent, a lover of sports and a language enthusiast. I live in Long Island City, where I am the oldest of four siblings. I am very much a dog person, and hate wearing jackets that make you hot rather than keep you warm. My favorite kind of soup is New England Clam Chowder and the best type of sandwich is one made with tuna fish in the middle. I love many types of music and I can more easily fall asleep in warm sunlight than in the dark.

I am conversational in Spanish and French, and am teaching myself Chinese, with the intent of eventually learning to speak Arabic. In addition I’ve studied four years of Latin.With my knowledge of languages I hope to someday possibly work for the CIA or a government office. Politics interest me greatly, and there is no more impressive or well received way to communicate than in the native language of another.

But I’m flexible about my future plans. There are plenty of possibilities of course, but I can honestly, wholeheartedly say that I don’t know what I want to be when I “grow up.” Some people know exactly what they want to be or do from very young ages, but this sort of knowledge was never something I was privy to.

I will be attending Baruch College in the Fall, where I will study and learn, and where I hope to gain some insight into what my future may hold. Thanks to the FF Christopher Santora Scholarship Fund, I can study clear of financial burden, and in these rough economic times winning this scholarship means very much. The Santoras have given me very valuable time to figure out what I want to do with my life, how I can best contribute to a better world. Hopefully, whatever it is that I decide to pursue, I become as kind, loving and as perseverant as the Santoras.

I would love to thank the Santoras for all that they’ve done, for allowing me to seize this wonderful opportunity. To have created something so beneficial in the face of such a terrible disaster is a beautiful example of how beneath the rubble of tragedy something great can be found, if only we are brave enough to dig deep. Thank you Al and Maureen for always digging deep.

I’ve been told that we are kindred spirits, and I am sorry to say that I never had the opportunity to get to know Christopher.

Christopher, you were a hero. Thank you for your sacrifice.

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