Guantanamo and its legacy

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I appreciated Robert Pearson’s letter to the Optic of Jan. 13, which highlighted the legal quagmire at the Guantanamo Detention facility.

U.S. citizens should be very concerned that our country has acquired some of the undesirable characteristics of military dictatorships. Our constitution insists on innocence until proven guilty, speedy and fair trials according to established rules of due process, and respect for the human rights of everyone, including prisoners, even when proven guilty.

Some good news about Guantanamo is that allegations of ongoing torture have ceased; the detainees have access to lawyers and court review; and more than 600 of the 779 men once held there have reportedly been released.

However, illegal practices that had been considered “temporary exceptions” were signed into law and thus made official U.S. policy when President Obama recently signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. This legislation has provisions that empower the president to direct the military to capture anyone, including U.S. citizens, suspected of being associated with a designated terrorist organization. Such people could be detained indefinitely without charge or trial. If tried, it would be by a military commission and not in the U.S.

The National Association of Civil Defense Lawyers describes military commissions as “a second class system of justice” which is constitutionally suspect and lacking in fundamental due process protections. ...

There are currently 171 detainees at Guantanamo. Of these, 89 have been fully cleared for release. However, because Congress has barred them from being transferred to the U.S or to a foreign country, they will remain imprisoned indefinitely.

Of the remaining prisoners, the Obama administration has plans to prosecute approximately 32 prisoners, and a few others have charges pending. Of 46 not cleared for release or waiting to be charged, the administration plans to detain these without ever bringing charges.

Some will argue that in a time of war, the rules change. It’s true that in wartime, behaviors may change due to panic, fear, rage, and occasional unfettered barbarism. This is precisely why we have and must maintain our constitutional principles ...

Consider the name of this war we’re engaged in — “The War on Terror.” Tell me, someone, just when and how we will know when terror has been defeated? Terror is not a country or a person but a state of mind. We don’t end it with a truce. We resist it by refusing to capitulate to fear-mongering and by refusing to abandon the principles that define us.    

It’s timely and useful to quote here from an article quoting Barack Obama quoting Dr Martin Luther King Jr. ...

“Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice. ...”

Good words. It’s time for caring citizens to convince our Congress, justices and president that they must eliminate Guantanamo prison and reform our practices of arbitrary detention and unfair trials wherever they occur. That’s one way we can help bend the arc of our part of the moral universe toward justice. That’s one way we can help fight the war on terror.

Judy Smith