Obama Should Not Delay Closure Of Guantánamo And Military Commissions, Says ACLU

January 12, 2009

Restoring Commitment To Rule Of Law Cannot Be Put On Back Burner

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – After President-elect Obama stated Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that he may delay the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, the American Civil Liberties Union urged him to waste no time making good on his campaign promise to shut down the prison and the military commissions. Obama implied that it might not be feasible to close the prison during the first 100 days of his presidency; the ACLU disagrees and urges him to take action immediately upon being sworn in.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, the Executive Director of the ACLU:

"While everyone understands that President-elect Obama will have a lot on his plate when he is sworn in, restoring our commitment to the rule of law cannot be put on the back burner. President-elect Obama is inheriting not only a financial market meltdown, but also a meltdown of a legal system under which the Bush administration has held individuals for years without charge, allowed torture and waterboarding and allowed hearsay evidence in specious military commissions. When the founding fathers broke away from England because of economic problems like taxation without representation, their very first act was to establish a set of laws. The Constitution came along well before the creation of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve because there is nothing more important in America than our rights and our values. Closing Guantánamo and the military commissions is a matter of both reclaiming our international reputation and increasing our national security, and must be done immediately.

"While the next steps might be politically charged and require courage, they are not fundamentally complicated. Each detainee's case must be reviewed by the new Justice Department. If there is evidence of criminal conduct – and one would hope that, after all these years, the government with its vast resources in the Defense Department, the Justice Department, the CIA and FBI would have collected untainted evidence against those detainees it claims are dangerous or guilty – detainees should be prosecuted in our traditional courts, which are the best in the world and fully capable of handling sensitive national security issues without compromising fundamental rights. If there is not, detainees should be repatriated to countries that don't practice torture. Fundamental and transformative change is neither incremental nor tentative.

"President-elect Obama says he wants to look forward, but you can't look forward without looking back. You can't know where to go and how to get there without knowing where you've been. Only a full airing of the maladies that have plagued our democracy for eight years and an unconditional return to our fundamental values and the Constitution will give us back an America we can be proud of."

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