White House Committed to Closing Guantanamo

The White House recently reaffirmed itscommitment to closing Guantanamo—a commitment President Obama made almost threeyears ago when he signed an executive order mandating its closure within ayear. Last Thursday, White House Chief Counterterrorism Advisor, John Brennan,told a room full of reporters, “We're not going to bring people to Guantanamo. It's thisadministration's policy to close Guantanamo and, despite some congressionalhurdles that were put in our path, we're going to continue to pursue that."On Sunday, September 11 Brennan reiterated this stance andtold “Fox News Sunday” that the administration is still trying to close theprison camp and transfer or prosecute the remaining detainees. 

DespitePresident Obama’s pledge to shutter the prison—an undertaking that was also acampaign promise—170 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Last year, Congress passedthe NDAA 2011, which contains provisions that block the transfer of GTMOdetainees to the US for prosecution. The bill also severely restricts the President’sability to transfer detainees to their home countries or other safe countries.In response, the administration issued a signing statement criticizing Congressfor intruding on executive prerogative.

Recently, theadministration took a more practical approach. Instead of sending suspectedterrorist Ahmed Warsame to a military commission in Guantanamo as Republicansin Congress wished, Warsame was held on a Navy ship for several months and thentransferred to a US civilian court. As Congress considers passing NDAA 2012which contains much of its predecessor’s restrictive language, the future ofthe Guantanamo and the men held there remains murky. Although the administrationhas advocated closing the prison camp, it has also supported transferring somedetainees to the US for prosecution or long-term preventive detention.

While theadministration should be applauded for its commitment to closing Guantanamo,closing the detention center is only half the battle. Indefinite detention inthis “global war on terrorism” is essentially punishment for a crime that hasnot been committed—a life sentence without a conviction. As a report by PHR hasconcluded, indefinite detention can lead to serious physicaland mental health consequences, which in some cases may rise to the level oftorture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  Such a policy neither adheres to the rule oflaw nor makes us safer.  As Judge JamesBaker, former Legal Adviser to the National Security Council and author of In the Common Defense, stated, "a nationalsecurity policy that does not include the rule of law as a core element willdiminish not only our liberty, but also our security.  That is becausegood process, founded in law, including good legal process, as well as goodfaith adherence to the law, produces better security results."  

PHR calls onPresident Obama and Congress to close Guantanamo and to transfer the men backto their home countries or to the US for prosecution. PHR also calls on theAmerican public to carefully consider and thoroughly debate any nationalsecurity policy that permits US military or CIA to pick up an individual anywherein the world and hold them indefinitely without a trial. Before we areremembered for that policy, let us remember what we stand for.   

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