After struggling against years of Republican resistance, President Obama is finally going to be able to make good on one of his last campaign promises – the closure of the notorious detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – also known as Gitmo. “It’s been clear that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines our standing in the world” said the President from the White House today.
Established in 2002 by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld under the orders of war criminals Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, the camp symbolized all that went wrong with the Bush administration in its blind and immoral war on “terror,” in which they discarded all the values and principles that made this country great in their misguided efforts to hunt down the perpetrators of 9/11. 779 prisoners, the vast majority of whom are Middle Eastern Muslims, have been held in the camp; many of whom were held for years without charge or trial, and many hadn’t even committed a crime but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since the camp is in Cuba, the Bush Administration felt that somehow international legal standards and the Geneva convention didn’t apply to the men being held there. Called the “gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, the Bush administration was known for torturing and otherwise abusing detainees at Gitmo. Six detainees have committed suicide on the base, with countless more failed attempts, evidence of the deplorable conditions and psychological hardships placed on those imprisoned there.
President Obama’s plan will bring some 30 detainees to prison facilities in the United States; the remaining 91 or so will be transferred to foreign nations – most likely Oman, which has already accepted ten detainees. Congressional Republicans have already begun howling in protest – “President Obama seems to be captured on one matter by one campaign promise he made in 2008. This isn’t even a case where the president can use some kind of pen and phone strategy by claiming the Congress refused to act,” said Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), one of the leading obstructionists in Congress who refused to approve President Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nomination before he had even named one and who will certainly tell his do-nothing Congress to refuse to act. The President has made it clear that he will issue an executive order if a deal with Congress cannot be struck.
The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is a legacy of one of the darkest periods in American history and must be closed. The very existence of Gitmo, as the President put it, is “contrary to our values” and the principles of justice and rule of law that our country holds dear. It represents all the failures and the horrors of the Bush administration, a stark reminder of our moral hypocrisy that is a blight on our name and standing in the world. It’s far past time we closed this camp.
You can watch some of the President’s remarks here:
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.