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Close Guantanamo

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President Obama was cited all the right reasons for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay that has tarnished America’s reputation and undermined our our principles of justice.

Questioned at a White House press conference about a hunger strike by 100 of the 166 detainees held in Cuba as suspected terrorists, President Obama said “Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe.”

“It is expensive. It is inefficient. ... It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts,” he said. “It is a recruitment tool for extremists (and) it needs to be closed.”

The prison first opened as a facility to hold suspected terrorists rounded up in Afghanistan and elsewhere following the U.S. invasion to apprehend Osama bin Laden, disrupt the al-Qaida terrorist network and oust the Taliban from control of the country.

Guantanamo answered an immediate need. However, it has been shrouded in secrecy under military control. In the past decade, the United States has been accused of torture, human rights abuses and violations of our own constitutional and legal principles in the treatment of detainees as enemy combatants rather than prisoners of war under international treaties.

President Obama on the second day of his first term sought to fulfill his campaign pledge with an executive order to close Guantanamo within a year. It failed after running into political resistance in Congress and in much of the nation as opposition arose to relocating terrorists to American soil or putting them on trial in civilian courts rather than before military tribunals at Guantanamo.

The administration was forced to back off its plan to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9-11, on trial in a Manhattan federal court after New York City leaders and members of Congress raised objections.

Many of the prisoners have never been charged, and may never be. Some could be held in perpetuity without ever facing a trial, circumstances critics liken to the repressive powers of dictatorial regimes we condemn rather than a democratic nation under the rule of law. “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests and it needs to stop,” President Obama said Tuesday.

President Obama, though, is not blameless. He has failed to transfer out of Guantanamo to other countries 86 low-level detainees eligible for transfer, placed repatriation of detainees on hold and has failed to follow through on other plans for review of detainees’ status.

Violence broke out last month when military guards ended the communal housing and moved inmates to individual cells after attempts were made to block surveillance cameras. In February, some detainees began a hunger strike that has grown to 100 detainees, some of whom are being force-fed to keep them alive. However, it only engenders more criticism of American policy since the president of the American Medical Association has said it violates medical ethics.

Part of the problem has been the sporadic attention given to Guantanamo’s fate. It has, as President Obama said, been a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.”

But now that is back in the public mind, President Obama and Congress have to find an alternative. Guantanamo is an untenable situation and cannot continue indefinitely. It has to be closed.

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