The Guantanamo Bay detention camp opened in January 2002. (Kathleen T. Rhem)

With less than seven months left in his presidency, Barack Obama has failed in his plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For more than 14 years, Guantanamo has been the symbol of everything that is wrong with the United States’ so-called war on terror. It is a living example of a fundamental disrespect for human rights, civil liberties and the Constitution of the United States.

The U.S. is supposed to be a nation of laws. But those laws are ignored at Guantanamo. We are supposed to be a nation of civil liberties. But those liberties are denied at Guantanamo. We are supposed to be a nation that has a living, breathing Constitution that protects the rights of all of us—not just American citizens, but anybody under U.S. jurisdiction. But that Constitution means nothing at Guantanamo. Instead, it is a “secret” prison, in that almost nobody is allowed to see its inner workings. It’s a place where people who have never been formally accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one, are held incommunicado and indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the cowards who are our elected officials in Congress have passed a law preventing the executive branch from transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to prisons in the U.S.—even to maximum-security penitentiaries. These morons apparently are afraid of having prisoners as dangerous as those at Guantanamo on U.S. soil. They obviously have never heard of the Unabomber, The Blind Sheikh, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy or Timothy McVeigh.

These same members of Congress also ignore the well-documented fact that Guantanamo is one of the best recruiting tools for extremist groups abroad. Indeed, an al-Qaida fighter in Iraq told Arizona Sen. John McCain that the U.S. use of torture and the continued operation of Guantanamo helped to fuel the insurgency there. It continues to be a rallying point for our enemies.

Congress has mandated since the Carter administration that the State Department produce a human rights report every year for every country in the world with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations. Those reports often have very positive effects on human rights in countries that otherwise might ignore them.

I was the human rights officer at the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, during 1995-96, and I can attest that the Bahrainis bristled at our coverage of their human rights practices. They didn’t like it, but they often admitted that it forced greater openness and respect for human rights there.

But how can we, with a straight face, tell other countries what they can and cannot do when we maintain an extrajudicial and extraconstitutional prison like Guantanamo, when we have tortured prisoners, when we have run a system of secret prisons around the world, when we have sent prisoners to Third World countries to be tortured?

Just before the 2008 presidential election, McCain said, “What is the moral superiority of the United States of America if we torture prisoners?” He was right. We lack any moral authority to criticize other countries so long as Guantanamo remains open. Obama has said similar things. Yet Guantanamo remains open.

Of course, there are bad people being held in Guantanamo. Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the attacks. He has the blood of 3,000 Americans on his hands. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abu Zubaydah were all deeply involved in the planning of attacks against the U.S. and U.S. interests or in assisting with the logistics supporting those attacks. They’re bad men. They should be tried for their crimes.

With that said, if they are not going to be tried, if they are not going to face their accusers in court, if they will not be allowed to offer evidence in their own defenses, they should be released. And Guantanamo should be closed forever.

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