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White House Committed to Closing Guantanamo

on September 12, 2011

The White House recently reaffirmed its commitment to closing Guantanamo—a commitment President Obama made almost three years ago when he signed an executive order mandating its closure within a year. Last Thursday, White House Chief Counterterrorism Advisor, John Brennan, told a room full of reporters, “We're not going to bring people to Guantanamo. It's this administration's policy to close Guantanamo and, despite some congressional hurdles that were put in our path, we're going to continue to pursue that." On Sunday, September 11 Brennan reiterated this stance and told “Fox News Sunday” that the administration is still trying to close the prison camp and transfer or prosecute the remaining detainees. 

Despite President Obama’s pledge to shutter the prison—an undertaking that was also a campaign promise—170 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Last year, Congress passed the NDAA 2011, which contains provisions that block the transfer of GTMO detainees to the US for prosecution. The bill also severely restricts the President’s ability to transfer detainees to their home countries or other safe countries. In response, the administration issued a signing statement criticizing Congress for intruding on executive prerogative.

Recently, the administration took a more practical approach. Instead of sending suspected terrorist Ahmed Warsame to a military commission in Guantanamo as Republicans in Congress wished, Warsame was held on a Navy ship for several months and then transferred to a US civilian court. As Congress considers passing NDAA 2012 which contains much of its predecessor’s restrictive language, the future of the Guantanamo and the men held there remains murky. Although the administration has advocated closing the prison camp, it has also supported transferring some detainees to the US for prosecution or long-term preventive detention.

While the administration should be applauded for its commitment to closing Guantanamo, closing the detention center is only half the battle. Indefinite detention in this “global war on terrorism” is essentially punishment for a crime that has not been committed—a life sentence without a conviction. As a report by PHR has concluded, indefinite detention can lead to serious physical and mental health consequences, which in some cases may rise to the level of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  Such a policy neither adheres to the rule of law nor makes us safer.  As Judge James Baker, former Legal Adviser to the National Security Council and author of In the Common Defense, stated, "a national security policy that does not include the rule of law as a core element will diminish not only our liberty, but also our security.  That is because good process, founded in law, including good legal process, as well as good faith adherence to the law, produces better security results."  

PHR calls on President Obama and Congress to close Guantanamo and to transfer the men back to their home countries or to the US for prosecution. PHR also calls on the American public to carefully consider and thoroughly debate any national security policy that permits US military or CIA to pick up an individual anywhere in the world and hold them indefinitely without a trial. Before we are remembered for that policy, let us remember what we stand for.   

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