Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) detention facility, a continued stain on America’s standing in the world.
Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the Bush Administration transformed Guantanamo Bay from a sleepy naval outpost into an interrogation and holding facility for nearly 800 prisoners from across the globe. Only about five percent of these detainees were actually captured by US forces. The rest were rounded up by the Northern Alliance and the Pakistanis, and turned over to the United States in return for substantial bounties. Some had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or the Taliban and had never actually taken up arms nor plotted against the United States. They were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ten years after the first detainees arrived at GTMO, more than half of the remaining 171 current prisoners have been cleared for release. Unfortunately, due to Republican obstructionism, the Obama Administration has been prevented from doing so. Instead, Guantanamo detainees continue to languish in indefinite detention. Incarceration without charge or trial is wrong, it is un-American and it is beneath who we are as a people. As the President stated in 2008, keeping Guantanamo open and holding detainees without charge makes us less safe and secure, and has created more terrorists than it ever held. And the cost is not minimal, at a count of $800,000 per detainee per year.
The United States cannot simply hold these men forever. But one of the outstanding issues is where the roughly 171 remaining prisoners will go. Many face threats to their safety if they are released home and there are few countries willing to accept Guantanamo prisoners, even those who have not been proven guilty of a crime.
Upon taking office, President Obama rightly called for the closure of the Guantanamo facility, but the issue has since fallen victim to political partisanship, causing the Administration to pull back on its commitment. And in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, language was included that could allow the government to detain terrorism suspects, even those who are American citizens, without charge or trial in military prisons. I could not support a bill that sets such a frightening precedent.
Every day it remains open, Guantanamo is a black mark on the principle that America is a nation governed by the rule of law. Every day that it remains open, Guantanamo demonstrates the devastating reality that in America today the rule of law can be sacrificed to political expediency. Its closure is long past due and I will continue working to see Gitmo’s doors shut for good.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.