Nicole Rejer is a freshman psychology major.
Last Tuesday, President Obama submitted a plan to Congress in hopes of closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The closing of the prison has become a divisive political issue that is hotly debated. Obama’s relationship with Guantanamo has been a rocky one. He has been unable to confront this issue for nearly all of his presidency, one that was very prominent in his initial campaign. One of Obama’s first plans as president was to have the prison shut down within a year.
Even though the plans were immediately rejected by members of Congress and Republican presidential candidates, the White House refuses to rule out the fact that Obama might try to use his presidential powers as commander-in-chief to close the prison single-handedly before leaving office. According to the New York Times, the plan focuses on transferring 30-60 detainees (who are deemed too dangerous to release) to a prison on domestic soil, while others will be transferred to other countries. The plan is not too specific, and doesn’t mention any replacement facilities. So the question remains: Should the U.S. keep Guantanamo open?
President Obama is right for trying to close it, for multiple reasons. The prison completely violates detainee’s rights and rights established by the Geneva Conventions. Even though U.S. courts have the jurisdiction to hear petitions from Guantanamo (thanks to Rasul v. Bush in 2004), the administration has continued to argue that prisoners don’t have the right to contest their detention in court, which means they can’t prove their innocence. Also, since the detainees aren’t labeled as prisoners of war (but are instead called enemy combatants), they don’t have any rights under the Geneva Conventions, which states that prisoners can’t be punished, interrogated, or made to answer questions other than name, rank, and serial number.
According to The Atlantic, Guantanamo also is one of the reasons that the U.S. has so many enemies. The existence of Guantanamo has spurred anti-American sentiment and several extremist movements, especially in places like Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has often used Guantanamo Bay to encourage anger against America and to recruit more terrorists. The continuous denial of legal rights breeds a lot of anger and resentment, especially among groups such as ISIS. Furthermore, it also spreads distrust among our allies, such as England, Spain, and Germany.
The most provocative argument against Guantanamo Bay is the way that the prisoners are treated. The abusive treatment of the Guantanamo detainees is well documented in FBI memos, statements from released detainees, court affidavits, and lawyers’ notes, as reported in TIME Magazine. Soldiers have threatened to kill and assault detainees, place them in solitary confinement, and committed other acts that are completely cruel and inhumane. The prisoners are treated worse than animals, with complete disrespect, and there have been multiple documented suicides and suicide attempts,
Closing Guantanamo won’t be easy, but it’s something the nation needs to see as critical to maintaining our moral values. The U.S. needs to prove that even in the face of menace, we stay true to our values, and that we won’t shy away from doing what we have always believed as right.