Opponents of Guantanamo Bay, the high-security detainment facility in Cuba used to house detainees believed to be connected with the War on Terror, decry the prison as a violation of civil rights and an unignorable failure of justice.
A report released last week by the Government Accountability Office indicated that U.S. prisons could safely absorb all 166 detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The study also reported that prisons across the United States already hold more than 373 prisoners convicted of terrorism, like the ones held at Guantanamo.
This new government report only adds support to the argument that President Barack Obama and Congress must close the detainment center once and for all.
Obama attempted to close Guantanamo when he took office in 2009 but was blocked by a Republican-led spending bill, part of which focused on the idea that holding detainees in U.S. prisons would encourage terror attacks in the prisons or in surrounding cities. Linked to this is the opinion that these detainees are unique criminals and should be held somewhere specific and isolated.
This argument is largely nonsensical and mistakenly used to support an institution that is unethical and contrary to American values.
The idea that keeping prisoners at Guantanamo is in the best interest of the United States is tied to the notion that transferring these detainees to state prisons would make the country a more likely target for terrorist attacks. But keeping detainees at a naval base in Cuba does not direct terrorist animosities away from the United States.
If anything, Guantanamo fosters a negative international image of the United States. In 2005, The New York Times published an article on how Guantanamo has “come to define U.S. to Muslims.” The article describes high school theater productions in Pakistan that center on the prison, and how the television networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya use images of caged and tortured detainees in station promos.
Nevertheless, supporters of the prison adamantly maintain that Guantanamo prisoners are a strong security threat to the U.S. and must be kept away from American soil. Indeed, Guantanamo detainees differ from traditional prisoners — all are believed to pose huge security threats to the United States and are somehow linked to terrorism. But the high-security status of these prisoners actually supports the concept of moving them to various U.S. prisons. It is safer to house these prisoners in undisclosed locations than to have them concentrated in one high-security detainment center.
Beyond the practical reasons that warrant closing Guantanamo, humanitarian concerns make it nonsensical to keep the prison open. Most of these prisoners have never been formally charged with a crime — the U.S. government simply reserves the legal authority to detain anyone they choose until the War on Terror comes to an end.
As a result, the government is able to abstain from giving each prisoner held in Guantanamo a firm sentence and trial, violating very basic rights that all other prisoners receive.
It seems implausible that an institution so contrary to our government’s values and ethics is able to exist in the modern world. Though the country’s humanitarian principles should have never led us to open the prison in the first place, the Government Accountability Office’s new study indicates that there is no better time to close Guantanamo. Keeping the detainment center open sacrifices America’s ethics and reputation. Congress must close the prison immediately and abide by the values that have always kept this country strong,
Ryan Townsend is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column “The Blame Game” ran Tuesdays.