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Why Gitmo ought to be closed

26 April 2011

6:00 PM

26 April 2011

6:00 PM

It is hard to feel anything but nauseous when reading the Guardian’s continuing special report on Guantanamo Bay, which started yesterday. The paper has released hundreds of classified files which were obtained
last year by Wikileaks, including detainee assessments prepared between 2002 and 2009 to summarise what the government knew about each detainee — and they do not paint a pretty picture. Some
detainees are clearly guilty as sin. But others seem to have been caught in the crosshairs of conflict.

One example seems to be Abdul Badr Mannan, who was arrested in Pakistan and turned over
to US forces in the belief that he was affiliated with al-Qaeda. According to the US authorities, this belief turned out to be false and Abdul Mannan was most likely arrested and sent to prison
because he had been “extremely critical of the Pakistani intelligence service,” and “may have been arrested on that pretence and turned over to US authorities, who were misled as
to the detainee’s affiliations."


The United States is not a great country per se. It is a great country, in part, because it has consistently demonstrated how best to check power — legally, constitutionally and
politically. That is what has allowed the country to unleash the natural energy of it citizens and create the greatest nation-state the world has ever seen. Yet when the US government decides to
circumvent the constraints that have been set-up — as any government can do for a period — it debases itself and its constitutional heritage.

Is that what is happening in Guantanamo Bay? It is hard to tell. The Guantanamo Review Task Force set up by President Obama found that 95 per cent of the inmates had noteworthy ties to Al Qaeda or
the Taliban, which contradicts the main thrust of the leaked files.

But the damage that the suspicion of wrongdoing at the facility does to the US government’s reputation alone means that Gitmo should be closed, and people transferred to high-security
facilities in the United States. That probably will not happen, not least because President Obama has dropped earlier demands that the facility be closed by 2010, sacked his pro-closure lawyer,
Greg Craig, and decided that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, will go on trial before a military commission in Guantanamo, rather than in New York City. But it still ought to be
done.


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