On Tuesday, Feb. 23, President Obama announced long-awaited plans concerning the closing of the highly-controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center. The center was built in January 2002 to detain particular individuals of interest related to the ever-expansive and seemingly perpetual War on Terror. This announcement comes amidst a heated political battle with congressional Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, over the yet-to-be-named appointee to fill the vacancy left by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was found dead on Feb. 13 at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Shafter, Texas.
As stated in documents released by the Pentagon following the president’s announcement, the continued use and operation of Guantanamo Bay “weakens our national security by furthering the recruiting propaganda of violent extremists, hindering relations with key allies and partners, and draining Department of Defense resources.”
Not only does Guantanamo Bay cost roughly $400 million in annual operating costs, more than $3 million per detainee, it is a consolidation of contradiction, inhumanity and disgrace.
The facility and the liberties taken oppose what we as citizens not only of sovereign nations but of a global community ought to strive and stand for, and fundamentally contradicts the values, principles, and morals we hold most dear.
Since the most recent Bush administration, more than 85 percent of the nearly 800 detainees once held at the detention center have since been transferred, and only 91 detainees remain to be dealt with. Of those remaining 91, 35 are approved for release, three have been convicted by a military commission, yet are still held at the facility, seven are currently being tried, and 46 are being held indefinitely without charge or trial.
The administration’s plan outlines a three-pronged method for relocating all remaining detainees and accelerating plans to close the facility and this regrettable, dark chapter in American history.
This proposal includes releasing cleared detainees to their respective, third-party countries, bringing those who are eligible to be charged with a crime to trial in the military judicial system or in a foreign court, and working with Congress transferring any and all remaining detainees to a modified, existing facility or to a new, specifically built site altogether.
This plan has immediately faced opposition from congressional Republicans, who continue to oppose President Obama. Namely, the opposition is regarding the transfer of detainees to a facility on U.S. soil, arguing that it is illegal under a previously passed annual defense spending bill for the President to relocate detainees without explicit Congressional approval.
In a rather flamboyant display of disapproval, Senator Pat Roberts posted a video on Twitter of himself ripping up the proposal while claiming “this is what I think of the president’s plan to send terrorists to the United States.” While I applaud Sen. Roberts for standing up to his convictions, he is simply in the wrong.
Firstly, the facility represents an abomination of human rights and American values, and is a lightning rod for increased resentment, condemnation and outright hatred towards the United States from foreign nations. Irrespective of one’s own feelings towards the detainees, it is impossible to argue that they are treated in a remotely humane or ethical way, or in a manner consistent with what the United States fundamentally stands for and represents.
Various degrees and methods of torture, interrogation and other mistreatments are an everyday occurrence at Gitmo, and are carried out with an alarming nonchalance and deliberate negligence of basic human decency that insults, compromises and ultimately erodes the very essence of the American way.
Secondly, the president must have the executive authority to close Gitmo with or without explicit or implicit Congressional approval, as the facility, its detainees and all the moving parts are directly related to the public interest and, more importantly, the security of American citizens at home and abroad.
While one might not be able to ascertain as much given the backlash from Republicans in the wake of the announcement, there was at one time bipartisan support for closing the facility, as President Obama noted in his statement.
However, as embarrassing dysfunction and increasingly immovable partisanship continues to shape congressional discourse, there is realistically little hope for a genuine bipartisan agreement on the issue. Given that unfortunate reality, and the grave, troubling consequences of allowing Guantanamo Bay to continue its regular operations, the president should do everything in his executive authority to see that the facility permanently closes its doors despite the opposition from congressional Republicans.
The liberties taken at Gitmo do not help to end the War on Terror or defeat our myriad enemies abroad, but only serve to further incite and progressively entice those who would seek to destroy us.
Those who disagree would argue that these detainees are war criminals who only seek to harm and kill the American people and deserve whatever treatment they receive at the facility.
They would argue that given the same opportunity, these detainees would conduct themselves in the same manner as the prison guards and partake in the same heinous, reprehensible and regrettable acts of exploitation seen at Gitmo on a daily basis.
In turn, I would argue that our treatment of these people, regardless of the atrocities they have legitimately committed or are merely accused of or their personal feelings toward the United States, is a war crime in and of itself. Simply put, the time has come to close the doors on Guantanamo Bay and end this dark, deplorable and contradictory chapter in American history.