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A Shameful Anniversary

Astine Suleimanyan,
Washington Legislative Office
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January 11, 2009

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Today marks the seventh anniversary since the first 20 detainees arrived at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Since that day in 2002, Guantánamo has become a disgrace to this country. It’s a symbol of our government’s willingness to flout international and domestic laws by torturing prisoners and holding them for indefinite periods of time, stripping most of them of the most fundamental right to challenge their detention.

Seven years since those prisoners arrived, only one trial, that of Salim Hamdan, has been completed. As the Bush administration winds down, the military commissions plan to try Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan. If Khadr’s trial does indeed commence on January 26, 2009, as planned, the U.S. will be the first western nation in recent history to prosecute someone for war crimes he allegedly committed as a child.

On August 1, 2007, then-Presidential nominee Barack Obama said, “As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.” Like many Americans, I was motivated and ready to bring awareness to help end the torture of detainees that has stained America’s reputation abroad. Here at the Washington Legislative Office, the field team collaborated to display a large banner which reads “CLOSE GITMO” in front of the ACLU building in downtown Washington, D.C.

Friday afternoon, my colleagues and I stood in the freezing 38-degree cold weather for two hours waiting for the banner to drop outside our office. I stood watching and discussing with Washingtonians walking by, curious to see what the commotion was all about. When the banner was finally in place, we clapped and watched others, walking out for lunch looking up curiously at the message on the banner.

As millions of Americans gather in Washington, D.C., for President-elect Obama’s historic inauguration, we hope the “Close Gitmo” banner will remind them, all Washingtonians, and the Obama administration of his promise to close Guantánamo. We need to end this brutality and restore America’s moral leadership in the world.

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