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December 12, 2017

Closing Guantanamo

Closing Guantánamo is a “national security imperative” according to the Department of Defense.  Guantánamo is a symbol of the failed war in Iraq, torture, and delayed justice for hundreds of men. Guantánamo is being used as a recruiting tool by terrorists. General Colin Powell has said, “I would close Guantánamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon.” General Wesley Clark has said, “The positive effect…in winning the war on terrorism by the shutdown of Gitmo is enormous."

94% of Guantánamo inmates have been released or transferred (or are cleared for same).  The Bush Administration imprisoned 780 people at Guantánamo Bay. To date, 730 have been released or transferred, and another five are set to be released or transferred – 94%. Others await justice. All have spent more than 10 years in prison, torn away from their families and homeland. The Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State General Colin Powell said that the Bush Administration knew that most of the prisoners were innocent. The catastrophic failure of justice resulted when the Bush Administration paid bounties of $3,000 - $25,000 per head, including to poor villagers who would accuse their neighbors of terrorism.

The government has decided to hold 23 people in prison indefinitely without trial. These detainees will be be reviewed for possible transfer by the Periodic Review Board. Every human being that is being held in prison deserves the right to be charged with a crime and tried, or to be released.

In 32 of 60 cases (53%), federal courts have held that Guantánamo prisoners had been unlawfully held. The government has opposed every case challenging the lawfulness of the detention.

Federal civilian criminal courts have convicted nearly 500 terrorists since 9/11. Military commissions at Guantánamo have convicted only eight, three of which have been overturned completely and one partially. Federal court convictions include convictions resulting from investigations of terrorist acts and of criminal acts by those with an identified link to international terrorism. The government is currently trying seven cases in military commissions, but the surer path to justice is through federal courts.

Prosecuting terror suspects before military commissions makes them look like warriors, rather than thugs. Those who argue that terror suspects should be tried before special military commissions because they do not deserve our regular courts miss the mark. As Judge William Young said when sentencing Shoe Bomber Richard Reid, “You’re no warrior…. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders."

The risk of sending individuals cleared for release back home from Guantánamo is manageable.  Members of Congress have pushed to restrict the return of some Guantánamo detainees to countries like Yemen because of security concerns. Continuing to detain men whom the courts have determined are unlawfully held violates the U.S. Constitution. It is far from clear that any of the detainees slated for return pose any risk, but the Administration has worked successfully with receiving countries to mitigate any potential risks through observation, required check-ins and re-integration programs.

Guantánamo costs U.S. taxpayers more than $400 million per year to operate. The government spent $ ½ billion to renovate Guantánamo for the 780, now 41, detainees held there. Also, keeping detainees at Guantánamo instead of high security federal prison costs more than $10 million more per detainee.

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