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Talking Points: Close It

Congress and the administration must take action to close Guantanamo and restore basic rights and dignities to the detainees.

Since its creation over five years ago, Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has been a source of human rights abuses and has tarnished the reputation of the United States. Leaders across the world have called for the closure of the facility, including, for example, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and even Bush’s ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The facility faces widespread criticism at home as well. A poll conducted last year showed that over two-thirds of Americans believe the United States “should change the way it treats detainees.” President Bush claimed last year, “I’d like to close Guantanamo.” But recent actions from the Bush administration reveal that this was simply a PR stunt. Last week, a new detainee was transferred to Guantanamo in “the latest signal sent by the Bush administration that it was not committed to any plan to close the facility.” Congress and the administration must take action to close Guantanamo and restore basic rights and dignities to the detainees. The Center for American Progress recently identified 10 steps to restoring America’s moral authority, including restoring basic rights to detainees and closing Guantanamo Bay.

  • Bush is ignoring his own military leaders by keeping Guantanamo open. In the wake of a recent report saying servicemen in Iraq overwhelmingly favored the use of torture tactics, General David Petraeus wrote a letter yesterday condemning the practice. “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture…to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they are also frequently neither useful or necessary,” he declared. In a hearing in March, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has broken with the Bush line multiple times before, told Congress that he wanted to close Guantanamo and transfer detainees to the United States for trial. “There is a taint about it,” Gates said about the perception of torture in the international community. In fact, in his first weeks as defense secretary, Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both “told President George W. Bush and others that [the prison] should be shut as quickly as possible.” Unfortunately, their views were quickly muzzled by Bush, Gonzales, and Vice President Dick Cheney.
  • The tribunal system at Guantanamo is ineffective at punishing terrorists. Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks was held at Guantanamo for five years prior to pleading guilty earlier this year to “knowingly assisting a terrorist organization.” The military commission system was ineffective in putting a convicted terrorist behind bars, as Hicks will be walking free by winter. On the other hand, this situation raises the question of why Hicks needed to be detained for five years only to receive a nine-month prison sentence. Hicks’ case calls attention to a continuing concern about the strength of evidence linking the detainees to terrorist activity. “Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members. … Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.” The Associated Press found that once Guantanamo detainees were returned to their home country, four-fifths of them “were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention.”

  • It is time to return the right of habeas corpus to the detainees at Guantanamo. Last October, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which included language stripping detainees of habeas corpus rights. Without habeas corpus rights, detainees at Guantanamo have no ability to question their detention. “It’s one of the core rights that makes the United States different from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran and Kim Jong Il’s North Korea,” notes USA Today. But Bush has pledged to veto any bill from Congress that restores habeas corpus rights to detainees. Congress recently passed up an opportunity to include provisions to restore habeas corpus to detainees in a new Department of Defense authorization bill. “My judgment is that the House is best able to undertake this effort and to be successful by acting on this issue as a separate bill,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO). That separate bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and in the House by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Jane Harman (D-CA).