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False facts and fearful talk about Guantanamo give U.S. black eye

Code Pink demonstrators hold up placards as US Department of State Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure Lee Wolosky (R) and US Department of Defense Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure Paul Lewis testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 23, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Jim Watson/Getty Images

Just because this is an election year, that’s no reason to give the United States an international black eye.

Unfortunately, some candidates, playing to their right-wing base, are back to stoking fears about Guantanamo Bay prisoners and demanding the continuation of detention policies that should shame our nation. The candidates’ claims are mostly factually inaccurate, and much of the rest of the civilized world remains appalled. Our Land of Liberty continues to hold prisoners at Guantanamo, now for more than a decade, without benefit of trial.


Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., has introduced a bill to permanently ban the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to Iran and Sudan and other “state sponsors of terrorism and other unstable countries.”

“Allowing the transfer of these dangerous criminals to terror hotspots only makes it easier for them to re-join in the fight against America,” Kirk says in a press release.

But Kirk has it wrong. Federal law already prohibits sending Gitmo detainees to Iran, Sudan or any other country on a list of nations designated as state sponsors of terrorism.

Similarly, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., alleges that the Obama administration has “allowed terrorists to return to the battlefield” through its “dangerous releases.”

But Ayotte has it wrong, too. The New York Times cites intelligence data showing that 111 of the 118 former detainees who are known to have engaged in terrorist activity after their release were let go by the Bush administration.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., says the remaining detainees are among the “worst of the worst.” He says they should be “locked up forever.”

But Johnson is scary wrong. The 35 detainees who are cleared for transfer to another country have no ties to terrorist plots. Most are Yemenis who traveled to Afghanistan before 9/11 to help the Taliban in its fight with the Northern Alliance. They can’t go back to Yemen because it’s too unstable, and the United States has had difficulty finding other nations to take them.

Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also are waving the save-us-from-Guantanamo-prisoners banner. They may see it as effective local politics, but they should remember it also reminds the world of a place with hunger strikes, no habeas corpus, no Geneva Conventions, and none of the usual limits on interrogations.

The world expects better of America, still viewed as a beacon of liberty. We should expect better of ourselves.

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