COMMENTARY | President Obama announced again today that he would try one more time to close the military base and detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The facility has remained open, giving supporters on the left reason to condemn the president (for not keeping his campaign promises) and, because of his repeated attempts to close the facility, giving detractors ammunition to accuse the president of being soft on terrorism and national security. But the president isn’t guilty of either with regard to Guantanamo.
“I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo,” he told CBS News’ Bill Plante during a press conference Tuesday. “I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
Obama was making the case that it is important that Guantanamo be closed. And it is important. After accusations of prisoner mistreatment and human rights violations began to filter out of the top-secret facility and subsequent investigations upheld those violations, it became a matter of national honor to close the place. Breaking from the Geneva accords and torturing those in detention only added to the place’s infamy. Then to have high-ranking officials in the Bush administration work as spokespersons for the facility, at first claiming no torturing was allowed or committed, then later saying that valuable information was gained during those “enhanced interrogation” sessions, became a laughable farce in the face of evidence to the contrary. In fact, former Vice President Dick Cheney still insists that valuable information was gained even though a bipartisan commission recently reported that out of the hundreds upon hundreds of sessions, almost no useful information was gleaned — and none that led to any major actions against high-level or important targets in Bush’s War on Terror.
How much more proof do people need that allowing Guantanamo to remain open is not only a public relations disaster but that there is no real reason not to close the facility?
Most of the opposition to the closing of the facility comes from the Obama-blinded GOP, those within the Republican Party that refuse to go along with anything President Obama supports, regardless of merit. Of course, they pay lip service to national security interests and protecting the public (because you can’t have terrorists tried in courts and incarcerated in the U.S. — too dangerous), all the time denying the fact that there has never been an escape from our Supermax facility in Colorado , a federal prison that has been open since 1994 and has housed some of the nation’s most notorious killers and criminals, not to mention a few terrorists (The “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski; the Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph; failed Times Square bomber Faizal Shahzad; failed 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind, Ramzi Yousef; Timothy McVeigh’s partner in the Oklahoma City bombing, Terry Nichols). Oddly enough, Timothy McVeigh, who masterminded the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was kept at an Indiana penitentiary until he was put to death in 2001.
All those terrorists, domestic and extra-national, were tried in American courts. They were incarcerated in American facilities on American soil. Republican cries that this should not be done belies the fact that it has often been done and accomplished under the administrations other than Obama’s, including Bush’s.
And it also isn’t true that Obama has not tried to close Guantanamo. In fact, he’s attempted to close the eye-sore three times, two of which were sidelined by his own party: Once in 2009 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow debate on the issue and another time, in 2010, when it was shelved in committee . The last time he tried was in 2011, where proposed funding for the base’s closure was barred by Congress .
But there is no real need for Guantanamo, not even one in the interests of national security or militarily. It is a public relations and foreign policy nightmare. Closing it would send the signal that America is again ready to honor its commitment to protecting human rights. It would place the prosecution and incarceration of terrorists that commit acts in and against the United States (outside of military parameters) where it belongs, in American courts and prisons. And it would get the U.S. military out of Cuba, where it has never belonged.
Maybe this time, the fear-mongerers and those suffering from Obama-blindness can be quieted long enough for a sensible debate and the end to an embarrassing chapter in American history.