Close Guantanamo Bay military prison

Thu, May 2, 2013, 09:40

More than four years after he first promised to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama this week pledged a renewed push to shut down a facility he described as expensive, inefficient and not necessary to keep the United States safe. “It hurts us in terms of our international standing ... it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed,” he said.

The president’s remarks followed reports that more than 100 of the 166 detainees at Guantánamo are on hunger strike and that 21 are being force-fed through tubes inserted through the nose into the stomach. There is disagreement about what precisely sparked the hunger strike but there is no doubt that it is an expression of despair by the inmates, many of whom have lost hope that they will ever be released. Only six of those imprisoned at Guantanamo are facing active charges before a military tribunal and the administration acknowledges that few others are ever likely to be charged with any crime.

The president blames Congress for his failure to deliver on the promise he made on his first day in office, ignoring his own responsibility for an impasse that has left the detainees in limbo.

He could halve the number of detainees immediately by releasing 86 already cleared for transfer and lifting the moratorium he imposed on repatriating Yemeni nationals. Out of the remaining 80, many can never be tried because they were tortured or because there is no evidence that can be used against them but the administration has determined that they are too dangerous to be freed.

The president this week cast doubt on this commitment to holding indefinitely a group of people who have not been tried, saying “it is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop”.

The continued operation of Guantánamo is an affront to justice, human liberty and democratic values and it will remain the greatest stain on Obama’s record until he closes it.

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