The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has the distinction of being the oldest military base not situated on U.S. soil. It is also the only one located in a country with which we do not have an open political relationship.
Developed in 1903 as a fueling and repair station for U.S. warships in the Caribbean, the base was stage for one of the tensest moments of the Cold War — the Cuban Missile Crisis. Over the years it has also played a significant humanitarian role, providing assistance to Haitian and Cuban refugees fleeing violence at home.
No stranger to international intrigue, Guantanamo Bay has once again become the center of world attention. Only this time, it is for less noble actions, actions we should have prevented.
Shortly after 9/11, Guantanamo Bay became host to “Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay (GTMO)” commonly referred to as “Gitmo.” A major piece in President Bush’s war on terrorism detainee mission, Gitmo is a military and interrogation facility built to house so-called “enemy combatants” who were apprehended by U.S. military and intelligence forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign countries as part of the global war on terrorism. Roughly 775 prisoners have called Gitmo home since the facility opened. In the past five years, 380 detainees have been released. Currently, 395 detainees are housed there, with only a few slated for trial while the rest are being held indefinitely.
The President’s detention policy is being contested in the courts and fiercely debated by the nation’s top scholars and lawmakers. While detainees at Guantanamo are not American citizens and do not enjoy the same breadth of constitutional rights, there is something decidedly un-American about jailing individuals indefinitely, without charging them with a crime and without providing access to the courts.
Obviously, we do not want to set free, people who are clearly bent on doing the U.S. serious harm. But one must ask whether the best way to avoid this is to detain indefinitely a large number of people who have been neither charged nor convicted of a crime. I fear that we are setting a horrible example for the rest of the world by perpetuating this state of legal limbo.
Part of the military’s justification for continuing to hold these men is that they can provide us with vital information on al Qaeda and other terror groups. But after five years of detention, is it likely they will provide information beyond what (if any) they have given already? I doubt it.
For a country that stands proudly for the norms of justice and fairness, Gitmo is an affront to our core beliefs as a nation. It also tarnishes our international standing which in turn weakens our ability to carry out the global war on terror. Our actions at Gitmo and Abu Gharib have acted as a rallying cry for jihadists, further fueling the fires of anti-Americanism.
It is past time that we establish a legal process for dealing with the detainees at Guantanamo. I recently traveled to Gitmo on a fact-finding mission at the request of Defense Chairman Jack Murtha to determine the future of the detention facility and the detainees. I hope to have more to share on this topic in the near future.