by Kamakshi Dadhwal
President Obama presented Congress with a four-point plan to close Guantánamo Bay prison on Feb. 23. The plan involves moving 60 “GTMO” prisoners to U.S. domestic facilities– after upgrading these facilities to match the security of GTMO— and shutting down the prison in Cuba. While the plan would cost approximately $475 million to turn into a reality, and is being met with widespread criticism by some Republican members of Congress, it is a plan to contemplate thoroughly before dismissal.
Obama’s plan is to work with Congress and convince them to lift the prohibition against moving detainees to U.S. land as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act. The act makes it illegal for any president to authorize the shutdown of GTMO without congressional consent. Obama and the Pentagon’s nine-page plan discusses how the current annual expenditure on maintaining GTMO is $450 million; moving the captives to domestic prisons will save millions in the long run. The plan entails confidence in U.S. inland facilities that, once improved, would be more than equipped to detain terrorists. U.S. domestic prisons currently house some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, and even convicted terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, not far from bustling cities and towns. If that’s not incredibly dangerous to the Republican opponents of Obama’s plan, and bringing 60 people to better facilities is, then clearly the opponents are questioning the forces that are responsible for running U.S. prisons. Forces that are, as of now, the best in the world.
“Keeping [Guantánamo Bay] open is contrary to our values. It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law,” Obama said, addressing Congress in his presentation last week.
Obama’s statement is largely true. For a country that boasts of being “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” holding people in a prison on a faraway island either on grounds of “suspicion” from 15 years ago or without charges altogether– without sufficient trial– is awfully hypocritical. Meanwhile, there is nothing brave about fearing 60 people in a nation home to around 400 million people and the world’s most efficient armed forces and exceptionally secure prison technology.
There were some highly unethical and unconstitutional decisions made in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The passing of the PATRIOT Act and the construction of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp was a result of not just the concern felt by the U.S. government for its people, but also fear and anger. It is often said that the decisions we make in fear and anger are often the ones we come to regret. If Obama is trying to atone for the mistakes of the previous government, why should Congress stand in the way of it?
Although Obama’s plan sounds like it is doing nothing more than moving the geographical location of GTMO to the U.S. instead of Cuba, it’s a good place to start. Bringing the prisoners to the U.S. would give the government an opportunity to finally make a choice: either try the prisoners on some valid charges or acknowledge that they were detained on no legitimate grounds. If some prisoners are found with no charges against them, than they deserve to be set free through an integrative-rehabilitative program. No rational mind would defend indefinite detention of an individual who is guilty of nothing other than being “suspicious.”
Obama is making an appropriate effort to right the wrongs of a dark past, even if it is his last chance to fulfill the promises he made years ago. Instead of hanging onto the fears about what it would mean to shut down GTMO, or how much it would cost to do it well, Congress ought to reason and act in accordance with the very constitutional human rights it was created to uphold.