Close Gitmo Now
The time to close the US military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay has long since passed. As a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama made the following statement on August 2, 2007:
As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.
This became a theme reiterated throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, and as President, Obama did issue an executive order shortly after taking office designed to accomplish just that within a year. Politics have since repeatedly intervened to the point where this camp remains in place as a constant reminder of the policies put in place at the time of its creation by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
More than a decade has elapsed since the camp was established at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January 2002. There are currently 166 prisoners being held there. 86 of the detainees have been cleared for release but are still there, victims of the political fight that prevented the President from accomplishing his campaign promise. Congress has passed laws interfering with the ability to close the camp, but it should be noted that they did so with the President’s signature. Among the obstacles is a provision that requires certifying that the detainee will never pose a threat in the future. How is it possible to honestly say that is the case about anyone?
At least 100 of the detainees are currently on a hunger strike to protest conditions at the camp, as well as the fact that their detention appears to be indefinite in nature with no end in sight. Many have been there for 10 years or more, with no charges being made against them and no trial, civilian or military being held to determine their innocence or guilt. Many of the hunger striking prisoners are being kept alive by being force fed, a procedure viewed as torture by many. Proponents of this treatment argue that indefinite detention of the prisoners is necessary as they are enemy combatants in the “War on Terror”.
The “War on Terror” seems to me to be a very slippery concept. It is not a war on a government or governments. Who is qualified to ever declare it is over? As long as terrorism exists (and it existed long before 9/11/2001), does this mean that our government can detain individuals with few if any legal rights until the “war” has been concluded? That appears to be what many of the authors of such legislation as the Patriot Act and the NDAA seemed to envision. That vision has no place in American jurisprudence, either military or civilian. Many civil libertarians on both the left and right end of the political spectrum oppose provisions of these pieces of legislation for that very reason. Many acts of terror have been committed, both before and since 9/11 that have been successfully prosecuted in civilian courts as are any other crimes.
People do not gain or lose human rights based upon their place of birth or the nation where they hold citizenship. Holding persons without charges, trial or legal representation are all anathema to our Constitution and the Bill of Rights enumerated therein. Holding people in prisons outside our national borders does not fool anyone into not recognizing who it is that imprisons them. If a person is guilty of a crime, he should face justice. There is currently no justice at all for the prisoners at Guantanamo.
Whenever an American citizen is held prisoner for a purported crime in a foreign country (say North Korea or Iran) with whom America has policy disagreements, there is a hue and cry from on high at the injustice being visited upon them by the unfair judicial treatment they are receiving at the hands of others. Is the United States not making itself vulnerable to accusations of something similar with regard to the treatment of these people at Guantanamo? At least in North Korea and Iran the American citizens have been subjected to a form of justice and sentenced in accordance with that country’s laws. Such cannot be said of the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees, who have seen no charges placed against them and had no testimony in any court, nor judgment rendered for or against them.
Is it any wonder that some of these detainees have resorted to suicide and hunger strikes to try to resolve their plight? What sense of optimism is to be gleaned by one subjected to such a Kafkaesque situation? Many of these people are never intended to stand trial of any kind, either because there is no evidence that they committed a crime, or the evidence that exists would never stand up in a court of law (evidence obtained illegally through torture, for instance).
The crimes committed by terrorists are, by definition, terrible and terrifying. Reactions to them are often visceral and severe, as are the crimes themselves. Many of the reactions by the government of this country in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks have served to make many among us feel safer than they were before, but terrorist attacks still occur. Acts of terror likely will continue as long as people exist who can plan them and carry them out. Maintaining a separate prison system for people who the government fears but does not want to subject to our criminal laws only serves to demonstrate an embarrassing degree of hypocrisy that we would not stand for if perpetrated by any other country.
If people are guilty of committing crimes against us, they should be tried in a court of law. Terrorism, jaywalking, murder or theft are all crimes that we have a long history in this country of dealing with under our court systems, be they civilian or military. Most acts of terrorism involve murder, assault and/or destruction of property all of which have been illegal in this country from time immemorial. Jurisdiction should not take a decade or more to figure out. If we fear these people so much that we refuse to try them because we fear reprisals at the results, as seems to be the case for many, then it seems to me we have already lost the “War on Terror”. Is that degree of insecurity and lack of faith in our societal institutions not one of the main goals of the terrorists?
Both the President and Congress must work to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and begin to erase another of the many blunders perpetrated upon much of the world by American foreign policy under the administration of George W Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Like ending the War of Convenience against Iraq and the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan (neither of which will end well for us or those two nations), the closing of that prison and release or prosecution of those held there will allow us to end a very sad chapter in our history as a nation. Everyday the prison is kept open should be another day we live in shame at our failure to live up to the high ideals of humanity to which we profess to aspire. To defeat terrorists by becoming them ourselves does not lead to a better world, but to one even more unjust than what came before 9/11.
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