As the next stage of the Obama presidency begins to kick into high gear, with many of his promises slowly becoming realities, the final remnants of the Bush administration’s war on terror are slowly exiting the Oval Office.
Last Thursday, Obama spoke at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. about America’s current visage regarding the moral authority surrounding our war on terror and use of torture, and the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention camp, located in neighboring Cuba, was at the center of the discussion.
The goal of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was once to strengthen national security by placing suspected terrorists in high-security detainment. What actually came from the camp, however, was a different story entirely.
Guantanamo is now widely considered a breeding ground for suspected abuse and torture against its prisoners, and controversies consistently arise over human rights violations taking place behind the camp’s doors.
In 2003, Mohammed Naim Farouq was transferred to Guantanamo. A January 2009 LA Times article reported that Farouq was stripped naked, put in a line, blindfolded and marched to a station while soldiers yelled and laughed, snapping pictures while prisoners were being issued new clothes, all the while claiming to have no ties to terrorist acts. Eventually, Farouq was found to have no links to the Taliban or to al-Qaeda.
But his case is hardly an isolated incident.
The same LA Times article cited a Defense Intelligence Agency study, which found that one out of every seven terrorism suspects are suspected or confirmed to have returned to terrorism following a stay at Guantanamo. According to a newly released Pentagon report, one Guantanamo detainee claimed to have simply been a local security leader in Afghanistan when he was arrested. It was only after his detention and time in Guantanamo that he became a radical Islamist, famously stating, “I became a terrorist because of Guantanamo Bay.”
That sentiment, and many others like it, is precisely the reason that our country has been perceived as fighting its toughest battle — moral decay — not in the Middle East, but at home. The election of President Obama was meant to ensure a positive shift in values, with his mantra of change signaling a turn in how our country would be perceived worldwide.
In the battle to close Guantanamo Bay and restore the nation’s global appeal and ideological stability, Obama is out of accord with both parties. Republican patriots have balked against his order to close ‘Gitmo’, calling his plan “unstable and uncoordinated.”
But it is the opposition he’s faced from his own party in Congress that has many questioning Obama’s decision. In January, at the height of Obama-inauguration fever, support for the proposed closing of Guantanamo was high, with many citing it as a decision that could potentially restore moral authority and strengthen the national security of the United States.
Last Wednesday, however, Congress voted 90-6 to deny the president’s proposal for funding to close the Guantanamo Bay facility until a more detailed plan of action is released, including information about where over 240 detainees currently held at Guantanamo will be transferred.
In the throes of our current economic crisis, with overpopulation in American prisons already a problem, the request for more information is understandable. If there is anything we’ve learned from our prior administration, it’s that we need to know where our money is going.
$80 million has already been requested by the administration to pay for the relocation of the 240 detainees. In an effort to prevent the prisoners from proclaiming habeas corpus (unlawful detention), which could result in their being released on U.S. soil, the hope is that many of the detainees will end up in overseas prisons run by various U.S. allies.
While this is a large chunk of money and the political and ethical debates surrounding relocation are heated, Congress should nonetheless be in larger and louder support of the plan in the spirit of making right one of our nation’s greatest wrongs.
We have elected Obama at the height of our country’s mistakes to make the changes we deem necessary. Now, as the hypothetical becomes reality, our country’s two primary parties seem to have developed a “not in our backyard” mentality.
Yes, Obama needs to reflect the concerns of both Democrats and Republicans — and, for that matter, the people as a whole. A more domestic and fiscally conscious plan is a step in the right direction. But it’s time for Congress to dig up the support they abandoned after those gung-ho days of January.
The mistakes that we have made as a country require assessment and reconstruction, regardless of the price. We need to face the human rights violations committed at Guantanamo Bay. Electing Barack Obama was an election meant to show what we as a nation stand for — or, perhaps more importantly, to show what we refuse to stand for.