The crumbled ISIS caliphate has bequeathed the world a terrible inheritance: Thousands of captured ISIS fighters and their families, many of whom remain dedicated to ISIS.
And with the apparent re-emergence, via video, of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Monday encouraging what remains of ISIS to continue, radical detainees represent an even greater risk. (The United States is working to confirm the authenticity of the video.)
The parched, forbidding sands of northeast Syria are home to detention camps, with one, al-Hol, holding more than 73,000 people, according to the Washington Post.
The atmosphere inside the detention centers is toxic, with overcrowding, fights over food, threats of harassment by followers of the Islamic State, and guards being attacked, according to news reports and the Middle East Institute.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial that a plan for a long-term sustainable solution be thought of.
Conditions under which they are being held are deplorable -- sanitary facilities are substandard and there is hardly any shelter from the harsh winter desert nights and rains. But it s not the fault of the Syrian Kurds or their American allies; no one expected this human deluge to escape the ISIS "Alamo" at the Islamic State s last redoubt at Baghouz.
Also, the crimes of the captives cannot be ignored, especially when, as the Washington Post reported, some of the female captives cling to their radical ISIS ideology.
An American became an ISIS bride. Now what?
They are loosely guarded by Syrian Kurdish forces (aka Syrian Democratic Forces) who served as America s tip of the spear in the destruction of the Islamic caliphate and who are now unfairly saddled with these dangerous spoils of war. The Kurdish guards have their hands full and cannot cope much longer with the dangers posed by the captives.
Attempted escapes by ISIS fighters are a constant hazard. And if successful, then what? Some may escape and slip back under the radar into Iraq or join ISIS franchise cells in Yemen, Libya, or even the Sinai to plot and plan more terrorism.
Others, who may even include some who are unrepentant of their role in fueling terrorism, demand the right to "go home" -- wherever home is.
In a perfect world, prisoners would be repatriated to their home countries, remorseful -- perhaps several hundred could be rehabilitated, especially if they do not have blood on their hands -- or not, but most nations have said they do not want them back under any circumstances, including those who joined as juveniles.
Only a handful have been permitted to return to their countries of origin, namely children orphaned by the fighting.
ISIS Fast Facts
Earlier this year, the Trump administration signaled it was considering utilizing Guantanamo Bay as a detention center for foreign ISIS fighters, but so far there has been no formal decision to send any detained fighters there.
On its face, it is an absurd idea. Guantanamo has neither the manpower or room to handle tens of thousands of ISIS fighters -- not to mention if detained family members were to be considered also. The logistical problems are only matched by the prosecution problems once they arrive at Gitmo. Then, what to do with these people once they have served out their sentences -- with thousands likely remaining unrepentant for their acts of terror?
The one viable alternative is to create a larger, remote, offshore penal colony for these ISIS terrorists. One that would have the resources to hold more captured ISIS fighters and their families.
There is ample precedent for such a draconian solution. The British used colonial America as a penal colony. Australia was a British penal colony, as well. So, too, was Bermuda. France dispatched criminals to Devil s Island in French Guiana and New Caledonia. Even South American nations created penal colonies.
Former ISIS brides on life inside terrorist group
Some might ask whether this solution is inhumane, especially when penal colonies have been known for human rights violations. But I would counter by asking if it is any worse than leaving these detainees in deplorable, dangerous conditions -- a clear and present danger to international security -- while the world dithers?
Still, it will require a willingness to do it the right way. A suitable remote island must be identified that can be adequately guarded. Multiyear funding would have to be located to construct permanent detention facilities and establish a supply air bridge to provide detainees with basic needs. All these things working together could address the challenges -- overcrowding, fighting, attempted escapes and lack of shelter -- that detention camp guards are facing daily.
Other critical questions would have to be addressed: How long would it take to make the venue habitable? Who would guard terrorist detainees? What naval force is necessary to prevent hijacked ships from approaching the island to facilitate mass escape? How long would terrorists and their offspring be compelled to remain on the island? Who would pay for the creation and maintenance of the facility and the basic needs of the detainees?
Whatever facility is set up, it should have adequate human rights safeguards.
Stay up to date...
Sign up for our new newsletter.
There are no easy answers to these challenges. An international initiative via the United Nations, with the cooperation of key affected states, is needed. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, along with international refugee and aid organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, have the operational expertise to establish sustainable encampments and to protect the inhabitants against external and internal abuses, but the devil will be in the most important detail: identifying a site and establishing a security perimeter to prevent rescue or escape attempts.
Balancing international legal precedent and morality against a historically unprecedented terrorist crisis is surely a dilemma. But one thing is certain, the longer these terrorists remain in Syria, the more danger they pose to the international community.