Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Close it Right: Guantánamo Must Be Shut Down Quickly And Properly

Anthony D. Romero, HuffingtonPost.com: On January 22, 2009, his second full day in office, President Obama issued an executive order mandating that the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay be closed within a year. Well, the clock’s ticking and it’s not looking good. As January 22, 2010 fast approaches, the administration is signaling that it's unlikely to meet its own deadline.

Guantánamo has become a symbol of American lawlessness and human rights violations, and it is highly disturbing that it is taking so long to shutter it. The prison should be closed now.

While the administration has encountered diplomatic problems regarding the transfer of detainees to other countries, the potential delay has also been due to business as usual in the nation’s capital. Even with Democrats in power, we’ve once again seen the tail wagging the dog, with a slow and weak response to fear-mongering about the unfounded dangers of transferring detainees to maximum security prisons in the U.S. — the “Not In My Backyard” cry from obstructionist cynics. In fact, a Democratic-led Congress has voted four times to prohibit the transfer of detainees to the U.S. except for prosecution, making diplomatic efforts to convince other countries to accept detainees that much more difficult. Our very own elected officials who should be advocating for justice have essentially and shamelessly been obstructing it.

Unfortunately, instead of continuing to passionately pursue the quick closure of Guantánamo, some members of the administration have played right into the obstructionism, sacrificing principle on the altar of political expediency. In fact, there are reports that White House counsel Greg Craig, who courageously led the charge for setting a closure deadline, has been criticized rather than supported for advancing the cause of American values. It is hard to know who started all this cynical maneuvering and who caved into it, but it’s time for the administration to regain its moral footing. That means reigniting its passion for ridding the world of Guantánamo as soon as humanly possible.

But whether or not the administration breaks its deadline for closure, it must not break its commitment to American values. As important as closing Guantánamo soon is closing it right. That means putting an end not only to the prison itself, but also to the unconstitutional and inhumane policies that have come to define it.

Approximately 775 individuals have been held at Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, only five percent of whom were captured by U.S. forces, according to a study by Seton Hall University School of Law. The great majority were captured by Pakistani or Northern Alliance forces, or turned in by bounty hunters for well-publicized rewards.

At least one detainee was as old as 98 when he was brought to Guantánamo; several were teenagers. ACLU client Mohammed Jawad was only 14 or 15 when he was brought to the prison, where he spent the next seven years of his life — essentially growing up there — before a judge ordered his release when the U.S. government was unable could produce any legitimate evidence to continue holding him. It has become clear over time that, contrary to the Bush administration's assertions, not all Guantánamo detainees were the "worst of the worst." The ACLU has just released a video featuring interviews with five men who lost years of their lives at Guantánamo without any meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention, only to be released without ever having been charged with a crime.

About 220 men remain at Guantánamo today, including 75 who have been approved for release by a presidential task force but remain in custody while the administration figures out what to do with them. The administration says it will announce the fate of at least some Guantánamo detainees by November 16. ...

President Obama's promise to close Guantánamo was an important commitment that must be honored, and quickly. But it will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its shameful policies elsewhere. We can't go back in time and stop the tragedy of Guantánamo from happening. We can, however, stop it from happening again.

Anthony D. Romero is Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

LSB: When is this administration going to live up to the promises it made in order to be put in office? The war isn't winding down, Guantanamo is still open, and DADT still has a strong hold on the nuts of our military. Sorry, but "a lot on his plate" is beginning to sound an awful like "it's hard work." Nothing but an excuse. Well, I'll find an excuse the next time the DNC needs money, volunteer time or my vote if the Congressional majority and the administration can't follow through with its promises. Where is the change we need?

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