The Pentagon has appointed an envoy tasked with shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The prison, which holds terror suspects including those involved in planning the 9/11 attacks, currently holds 164 detainees, 17 of whom are on hunger strike and 84 that the U.S. does not consider a threat.
President Obama promised to close the prison by 2010 but has been stymied by Congress, which has placed funding restrictions on the transfer of detainees and other conditions that make it difficult to move prisoners either to the U.S. or other countries.
ACLU, the Presbyterian Church and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture recently sent a letter to Obama urging him to close Guantanamo and reminding him of his promise to do so.
Q: Do you think it's about time Guantanamo was closed down?
The idea of a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — an offshore prison for foreign terrorism suspects, where prisoners are not afforded the same rights as they would be if they were within the United States — may have been a valid need in the immediate aftermath of 9/11; but it is an idea whose implementation has gone awry and is now the source of more problems than benefit. Gitmo should be closed.
That we are holding people in prison even though they have been cleared by our government puts us in an untenable international position. It also serves a recruitment tool for the likes of al-Qaeda and other terrorists who would do us harm.
There is also a clear moral and ethical dimension to this — holding suspects (including non U.S. citizens) for indefinite periods of time, without trial or conviction, goes against the ethical and moral grain of our nation, and is certainly against the 4th Amendment. It is even more of a problem for those suspects who have been cleared of any wrong-doing against us, or even worse, those who are innocent.
Those suspects who are a threat to the U.S. should be brought to the mainland U.S., tried, and sentenced accordingly. Those who are cleared or innocent should be released. The dilemma of a prisoner’s home country not wanting an innocent citizen back is a tragic ramification. For such prisoners, the U.S. has a moral obligation to work expeditiously to find somewhere for them to live their lives.
Omar S. Ricci
In this column my foremost goal is to bring Scripture to light on the topic at hand. Here’s some basic truth to help us all form sensible opinions about this sensitive issue.
Captivity is fitting for those guilty of crimes (see Romans 13:4). Captivity can be used for the purpose of making restitution for the crime committed (see Matthew 18:30). In Luke 4:18 we’re told that Jesus came to proclaim “release” for the “captives” (a reference to release from bondage to sin through faith in his death for us on the cross) but we find the principle that only those who are repentant (reformed) are released. Hell is eternal captivity for those who have, once and for all, hardened their hearts against God (see Matthew 18:8). We might apply that principle to those who continue to pose an ongoing threat to our national security.
Captivity doesn’t always mean guilt, and release doesn’t always mean innocence. Pontius Pilate caved in to the crowd’s pressure and released Barabbas, the guilty man, and in his place, crucified Jesus Christ, an innocent man. Paul the apostle was unjustly imprisoned for proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ. Today some countries imprison and execute people simply for being followers of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus “kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.” Ultimately God is the only true righteous judge, and “blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:7).
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
On April 30, nearly 40 international religious leaders sent the following letter to President Obama urging the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention center. The fourth signature on this message was that of the Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and president of Little White Chapel’s denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I share her opinion:
"We are deeply concerned about the ongoing existence of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and the indefinite detention without trial of many of the people imprisoned there. As representatives of U.S. faith groups, we oppose torture and indefinite detention without trial because they are contrary to the inherent dignity of the human person. As the nation’s most visible and painful symbol of torture and indefinite detention, Guantanamo Bay is a constant reminder of a deep moral wound that will heal only when it is permanently closed.
In 2008, both major party candidates, you and John McCain, promised to close the prison at Guantanamo. Two days after your inauguration, you issued an executive order mandating that Guantanamo be shuttered within a year.
Unfortunately, more than four years later, our government has not kept its commitment to close Guantanamo. Congress passed, and you signed, legislation placing restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantanamo … It is particularly troubling that the 86 cleared detainees remain imprisoned there — in many cases for years after they were cleared. The desperation and hopelessness felt by many of the detainees has recently sparked a hunger strike that is spreading among the detainees — highlighting the growing human tragedy of the detention center.
Guantanamo Bay is a place where our government tortured prisoners, and it continues to be a place where many are detained indefinitely without trial. We believe that our government has a moral obligation to close the prison at Guantanamo. We hope that you share this belief and that you will act expeditiously to close Guantanamo."
The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel
It is long past time to close Guantanamo and very fitting that In Theory is tackling this question. Churches have led the way in opposing our out-of-sight-out-of-mind gulag.
Four years or more have passed since 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners there were cleared for transfer to their home countries or to a safer one, if their country presents human-rights threats. Some of the prisoners were cleared for release eight years ago. The hunger strikes and multiple suicides come as no surprise.
Consider the context of Guantanamo's history. Of the 779 prisoners ever held there, 600 have been released without any charges against them, many after years of captivity. Seven were convicted by the military commission after a trial or a plea bargain; a total of six of the current prisoners face formal charges. These results come after nearly 12 years of prosecutorial effort.
Again, no surprise. The rounds-ups after 9/11 paid very little attention to due process, evidence or probable cause. Those captured were often turned in by their ethnic or political rivals.
Indefinite detention without trial constitutes torture under international law. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture represents hundreds of diverse denominations and organizations. Along with the ACLU, 20 prominent civil justice groups also signed the letter to President Obama.
Certainly Congress has put up obstacles, the raison d'etre of the GOP, unconcerned that Guantanamo costs us close to $1 million per year, per prisoner. But as the letter points out, President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act extending the restrictive language. A thorough case is made that President Obama can, and should, as he has promised, use his executive power based on national security to close the prison without Congressional approval. The full letter can be read at nrcat.org.
Guantanamo is a dark stain on our nation and a deep embarrassment internationally. To quote our president, “It is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests and it has to stop.” Now we must make him act on those words.
The situation for detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been accurately named by some “America's moral black hole.” It appears that through a series of political and funding restrictions our government has put itself in a Catch-22 predicament with no viable exit strategy.
Currently 164 detainees remain, 84 of whom were cleared for release but still are incarcerated four to eight years later. Either their own countries do not want them returned or the U.S. fears their human rights would be violated if they were returned. So with nowhere to send them, they remain at Guantanamo.
But continuing to keep them at Guantanamo is simply warehousing our moral dilemma in an obscure place, hoping to keep it out of sight and out of mind. I think the detainees should have been transferred to federal maximum security prisons years ago. This action would have brought their continuing plight onto the radar of the American public and forced the government to make decisions about how to legally handle their cases. Hopefully it would also have reduced the risk of maltreatment and torture.
Christ gave his followers a general rule of life commonly known as the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (Luke 6:31) I can't imagine that any American would accept being held for years without formal charges, or being cleared of charges and still incarcerated, as acts of justice. If we are unwilling to be treated this way ourselves, we have no moral right to continue to ignore the detainees at Guantanamo.
We need to close Gitmo, begin legal processes against detainees we feel are implicated in terrorist activities, and do everything in our power to free and make amends to innocent detainees.
Pastor Ché Ahn
Absolutely we should close down Guantanamo. And good for the church groups urging its closure! Full disclosure: I grew up in the Presbyterian church, so I am especially proud of that group's stance on Guantanamo. And what did I read, that there are more than 80 inmates there who aren’t guilty of terrorism?
If I were Obama, I'd take Air Force One over there, load the plane with the 80-something non-terrorists, and bring 'em back stateside so that they could have fair trials here. I'd issue an executive order to get it done.
The idea of Guantanamo is antithetical to the American way. Did you see “60 Minutes” last week? The retiring CIA official said that all the stuff that's done to prisoners in order to get information from them (waterboarding, et al) goes against the American ideal. I couldn't agree more. Let's get America back to the civilized place I like to believe it once was, and shut that blankety-blank Guantanamo down.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge