Closing time for Guantanamo Bay

Guest Column by Lee McClelland

Since Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Guantanamo Bay has been playing Semisonic’s hit song “Closing Time.” Much to the inmates’ dismay, it has been more than three years since the president’s decree that Guantanamo would be closed.

Listening to “Closing Time’’ — much like the usual treatment — has been one prolonged act of cruel and unusual punishment. Of course, I’m joking about Semisonic, but everything else is quite true.

Guantanamo was slated to close by 2010, yet it is still holding prisoners who have been denied their Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial while in American custody.

When Barack Obama signed legislation to close Guantanamo, he said, “the message we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly; we are going to do so effectively; and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” What values and ideals does America have?

That is a question that the United Nations has posed in a press release, made available January 23. Navi Pillay, high commander of the U.N., stated “the facility (Guantanamo Bay) continues to exist, and individuals remain arbitrarily detained indefinitely in clear breach of international law.”

She goes on to echo her fears about the recent legislation passed in Congress, the National Defense Authorization Act, which has an amendment that allows for the military detainment of an individual without the writ of habeas corpus — the right to be told why you are being detained. In this scenario, the government can hold an individual indefinitely.

This hasn’t been done since Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1861, after the start of the Civil War. There is no justification for the NDAA and its provisions that allow an individual to be denied their constitutional rights. If you find this to be alarming or unjust, you can thank your U.S. Senator Carl Milton Levin (D-Mich) who was the co-architect of the NDAA, along with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz).

Many of the individuals being held are thought to be innocent. In 2004, Brigadier General Martin Lucenti stated that “of the 550 [detainees] that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries … Most of these guys weren’t fighting. They were running.”

Mohammed al-Qahtani, the suspected 20th hijacker, is currently held at Guantanamo. He is also the victim of serious acts of torture in which he was forced to walk around like a dog on a chain, severely beaten and exposed to extreme cold.

Mohammed al-Qahtani was also cleared for release five years ago, yet he is still being detained at Guantanamo Bay. Recently, he wrote to his lawyers, “I wonder if the U.S. government wants to keep us here forever.”

By labeling these men terrorists, we cover them in a shroud of darkness. We find them to be evil, to be sinister individuals who would stop at nothing to kill American freedoms.

We forget that they may be innocent; after all, according to our Constitution, they are innocent until proven guilty, yet we do not give them a trial.

Why do we keep them locked away under the premise that they are “evil-doers,” as George W. Bush would say?
Yes, the attacks on America were appalling. It is awful what human beings do to each other.

Islamic extremists are individuals who act outside of the social norm and for perverted ideals that do not unify with their religion on a whole.

While they are setting IED’s and strapping on explosive vests, the U.S. government is holding innocent men on the backside of Cuba, where they are subject to torture and denied basic human rights.

The public is told that the terrorists being held want to kill our freedoms. Yet, as long as those men sit in the dank squalor of their cells, wondering if this is where they will die, our American freedoms are imprisoned with them.

It is not the men being held at Guantanamo Bay that are killing our freedoms: it is our own government.
Unless the United States heeds the warning of the United Nations, the world will start to look at us in an even more unflattering light.

We have already ostracized ourselves from many other countries: why chance the approval of our peers in the U.N.?

To do what is right, what the Founding Fathers would have wanted, we need to let these men go. If Barack Obama and Congress don’t do something, the detainees will forever hear the echo in their cells, “I know who I want to take me home…so take me home.”

After 10 years of injustice, it must be closing time for Guantanamo Bay, along with the return of our basic constitutional freedoms and international human rights.