Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Guantanamo tarnishes U.S. reputation abroad
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 25, 2007
To say Guantanamo has been a black eye on U.S. policy would be like saying a zebra has stripes. Five and a half years after the prison on this U.S. naval base in Cuba was set up to hold prisoners thought to be fighting for al-Qaida and the Taliban -- at a sensitive time when the fear of terrorism was considerably more pronounced than now -- it is a target of universal scorn. Civil liberties advocates have attacked its policy of indefinitely holding the prisoners, many captured in Afghanistan, without giving them a trial or opportunity to hear or challenge the accusations against them. (Not until last May, when the Associated Press won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, were the names of the prisoners released.) Human rights groups, outraged after three prisoners hanged themselves, have assailed the mistreatment of inmates -- charges that, whether overstated or not, are damaging to our image. Initially held in cages exposed to the elements, most detainees are now held in cellblocks.
President Bush, once an ardent defender of Guantanamo and the policy of secrecy in which it was enveloped, has stated his wish to shut down the prison. The plan is to transfer the detainees (which after the planned release of about 80 will number 295, down from more than 770) to one or more Defense Department facilities as well as prisons in their home countries. The maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., has been mentioned as a possible destination. The United States is helping build a prison in Afghanistan, where it hopes to transfer several dozen Afghans.
"America does not have any intention of being the world's jailer,'' said White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino. But even with that writing on the wall, the administration is dragging its feet on adopting a proposal for the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison. A planned meeting Friday of Bush's national security and legal advisers to discuss it was canceled the night before and not rescheduled. Perino said it had been decided a meeting "wasn't necessary at this time" and that a decision on the matter wasn't forthcoming.
To be sure, there are crucial conditions to be met before detainees can be shipped off. The last thing anyone wants is to free enemies of this country only to see them re-recruited for terrorist missions. Some previously released prisoners, freed at home, have had nothing to stop them from rejoining the Taliban or al-Qaida. Nor does the United States want to transfer prisoners to facilities in which they will be subject to torture.
Even the most hawkish officials know if America is going to restore its standing in the world, it needs to better promote the values that set it apart. Guantanamo doesn't do that.