Eleven years have passed since the first prisoner arrived in Guantánamo Bay, making it the longest-standing war prison in U.S. history. Guantánamo has been a catastrophic failure on every front, and it is long past time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close. Almost 800 men have passed through Guantánamo’s cells. Today, 166 remain. Most of them—86—have been cleared for release since at least 2009 but remain imprisoned.
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The prison at Guantánamo symbolizes our nation’s failure to adhere to the rule of law and human rights, and this ongoing betrayal of American values undermines our standing around the world and serves as a recruiting tool for our enemies. We continue to indefinitely detain without charge or trial terrorism suspects captured far from any theater of war. We continue to rely upon unconstitutional and secretive military commissions to try some of the most important cases in our nation’s history, even though the federal courts have proven to be reliable and secure. And we continue to allow political posturing to perpetuate the tragedy of indefinite detention for prisoners and their families, including for the 86 who have been cleared for release for years yet remain imprisoned.
Every branch of government shares responsibility for the continued stain that is Guantánamo. The Supreme Court has stood by while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has eviscerated habeas protections for Guantánamo prisoners, rigging the rules in favor of the government and making it almost impossible for prisoners to meaningfully challenge their detention. Congress has repeatedly voted to restrict the president’s authority to transfer prisoners—even those cleared for release—from Guantánamo, doing so once again just weeks ago in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. President Obama threatened to veto that legislation but backed down as he has before. The president must rectify that wrong and undo the damage done by Guantánamo to the rule of law by using existing NDAA certification procedures to repatriate and resettle abroad all prisoners who are not charged with crimes. He must also swiftly end the unjust Guantánamo military commissions and work with Congress to ensure fair trials in civilian courts for any prisoner against whom there is sufficient evidence that is untainted by torture.
For the sake of the rule of law and human rights, American security, and Guantanamo’s many victims, the prison must be closed.