Now that three more longtime detainees have left the Guantanamo detention center, it’s time for the United States to close it for good.
On Sunday, officials said a detainee had been transferred to Italy. On Monday, the Obama administration said a Yemeni and a Tajik national were sent to Serbia, bringing the number of detainees at the detention center down to 76.
Just a few days after America celebrated a different ’76 — the year of our independence — it would be an appropriate time to reaffirm our nation’s support for the rule of law, human rights and a fair day in court. Guantanamo — where men are kept behind bars without trial — is the antithesis of all that.
Transferring the detainees hasn’t been a flawless process. Last month, a detainee went missing in Uruguay, which provided fodder for some lawmakers who don’t want anyone else to leave Guantanamo. But imprisoning men behind bars without a chance at a trial is a far cry from the “humanitarian solution” Pope Francis’ Vatican asked for late last year.
The United States must stand for the rule of law. This isn’t a nation where we toss people behind bars indefinitely without trial because they are labeled “enemy combatants.”
Since the Guantanamo detention center opened in 2002, 779 prisoners have been brought there. We don’t expect the 76 who remain all are quiet souls who, given a chance, would never attack America. But our laws aren’t based on imprisonment for suspicion. They are based on formal charges to which the accused are given a chance to respond. Ideals that can be cast away when inconvenient are hardly the measure of an inspiring legal system.
Moreover, Guantanamo eats away at America’s international image, discouraging would-be friends and fueling the propaganda our foes’ use to recruit others to their cause. The memory of the invasion of Iraq, along with accounts of abuse and torture, are millstones enough. Guantanamo makes it even more difficult for the right message to resonate.
Didn’t President Barack Obama order Guantanamo closed — six years ago? Didn’t the U.S. Supreme Court rule prisoners are entitled to a day in court — more than six years ago? Why do we still have inmates behind bars who never have been convicted, but who have no legal recourse?
Last week, a State Department special envoy told Congress only 19 of about 140 detainees who have left Guantanamo on Obama’s watch have reverted to terrorist activity or fighting.
That’s 19 too many. But 76 also is too many — too many examples of the United States not respecting its own rule of law.
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