One of the best things about the first Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2007-2008 was hearing him promise to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. One of the worst things about the two-term Obama presidency has been his failure to keep that promise. The day after Obama’s 2008 election, a Washington Post article stated that his administration would “launch a review of the classified files of the approximately 250 detainees at Guantánamo Bay immediately after taking office.” Then, on January 22, 2009, President Obama signed on executive order calling for the closure of Guantánamo within a year.
As CNN reported at that time, there were differing opinions on whether closing Guantánamo was a wise decision. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) raised concerns over where the detainees would go, citing NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) concerns of potential relocation sites. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) stated “We cannot risk going back to the politically correct national security policies that left us vulnerable in the lead-up to 9/11.” But Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) calling closing the prison “a first key step in restoring America’s image and credibility in the world.”
Obviously, Guantánamo was not closed within a year. On January 11, 2016, the prison is beginning its fifteenth year of operation. Disagreements over political correctness have intensified since 2009, becoming a major part of the 2016 presidential primary campaigns. Meanwhile, America’s image and credibility remain as tarnished as they ever were during the George W. Bush administration when Guantánamo took in its first uncharged detainees. Guantánamo has been a constant in the post-9/11 world, despite the fact that “its very existence stains and defies the moral fiber of our great nation,” as Rep. Murtha stated in 2009.
According to a March 2015 Huffington Post article, President Obama declared that “if he could go back and do his presidency over again, he would have immediately shut down the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”
Unfortunately, the past is past, but the present is here, and the future awaits us all. Closing Guantánamo has always mattered and it still matters. The fact that the prison was created, that it is a place where human beings have been tortured, and that our country has not yet seen fit to find a way to close it—all of these things matter. As Sue Udry of BORDC/DDF recently wrote, “Guantánamo is the bitter legacy of a politics of fear, which must be rejected.”
Fear is what caused America to embrace torture, and torture we did. The Senate Committee’s Report on the CIA’s Use of Torture (528-page summary), which details what the words “enhanced interrogation” and “stress positions” really mean and exposes humans rights violations on a huge scale, was released on December 9, 2014. If everyone, in and outside of Washington, D.C., knew what that reports says, it might be easier to reject the fear that has caused so much pain and to close Guantánamo once and for all. But, as Amnesty International reports, “the Justice Department has apparently not even read the full report, and is barring other federal agencies from reading it.” Amnesty International also states, “All the public has right now is a declassified summary, but the Justice Department has the full, 6,700 page report and we are concerned that they are not opening it due to a cynical attempt to circumvent U.S. open records law and PREVENT its release.”
BORDC/DDF and our allies are making a push to do something about that. In addition to arranging rallies, protests, and vigils across the country on January 10, 11, and 12, 2016, we are asking people to sign a petition to close the Guantánamo detention site and end indefinite detention. As the petition states, “in the current climate of fear and bigotry, future presidents could try to expand indefinite detention on vague, ‘national security’ grounds.” This is yet another reason why closing Guantánamo matters. People here in this country and people around the world need to know that the United States rights its wrongs, corrects its mistakes, and ends the commission of grievous violations. Our 15-year-old reactions to terrorism must be amended.
In a 2011 post on the BORDC blog, this writer stated: “Torture is part of American culture now … For the 9/11 generation, the children born into this topsy-turvy world, torture isn’t even torture; it’s enhanced interrogation. It’s as normal to most Americans as taking your shoes off before you can get on a plane.”
That was almost five years ago. Today, as we did then, BORDC/DFF asks you to sign the White House petition to close Guantánamo and, along with Amnesty International, calls for all relevant agencies to read the full Senate Torture Report. Instead of denial and lies, we need transparency and accountability—not just surrounding Guantánamo, but surrounding the “War on Terror” in general.
If the Justice Department doesn’t read the Senate Torture Report, how can justice be achieved? If Guantánamo remains open, housing over 100 men, most of whom will never be charged with crimes, how can America be a nation that conducts itself according to the rule of law? Close Guantánamo now.