Just Say No to Gitmo

Jacob Winick , Staff Writer

An editorial cartoon
An editorial cartoon by Kyra Bergsund

A man sits in a small dark cell, a feeding tube up his nose. Denied his unalienable rights – he waits for release, thousands of miles from home, without ever having been convicted of a crime. It seems like a scene straight out of North Korea or Iran. But it’s much closer to home.

The Guantanamo Bay detention center, established in 2002 by the Bush administration to hold prisoners from the War on Terror, blatantly violates the founding principles of our nation.

Despite this infringement, Americans have collectively taken a policy of “out of sight, out of mind,” regarding the camp located a boat ride from Miami. Detainees are subjected to corporeal torture and denied rights to a speedy trial, a lawyer, due process, and freedom of religion – all of which are ostensibly guaranteed by our Constitution and the Geneva Conventions.

The detention camp desecrates the supreme law of this nation. It tarnishes our image both domestically and abroad. As a superpower that prides itself on fighting global injustice, we must stand up against the denial of basic human rights to prisoners under our own jurisdiction.

In the face of such hypocrisy, how can we expect the international community to respect or trust our nation?

Proponents of the reprehensible protocol at Guantanamo Bay disregard U.S. laws by arguing that the constitution only applies to American citizens and that the detainees can therefore be subjected to crimes explicitly forbidden by our forefathers. This attitude completely misses the point of our founding principles. The Constitution was written to clarify our “unalienable rights” – to mandate the ethical treatment of all people. Thomas Jefferson did not refer solely to Americans when he wrote, “all men are created equal.”

Our founding principles are not guidelines applicable only when convenient. They are commandments. To ignore them is to undermine the work our forefathers did to secure our liberty.

It was this type of selective blindness that our forefathers sought to prevent. The British would not grant them their “God-given rights,” so they declared independence. How can we, as Americans, deny human beings intrinsic rights and still fly the banner of freedom and integrity? We declare wars to secure the rights of people from tyrannical governments around the world, yet we refuse to recognize the injustices we perpetrate at home.

Furthermore, by denying prisoners basic human rights, trampling upon our own laws, and defying those of the Geneva Conventions, we have fuelled the recruitment of terrorists.

To clarify, an offshore detainment center for Prisoners of war is not inherently unethical. Indeed, it is necessary. The nation’s ethical authority crumbles, however, because we are imprisoning and abusing alleged terrorists indefinitely, without probable cause or any type of trial.

Six years have passed since President Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay. He has the power to end the barbaric practices, but has chosen not to. He could send federal judges to Guantanamo Bay to give the prisoners fair trials, yet he continues to deflect blame instead. Promises may have got him elected, but now he must follow through. How he will be judged as a president ten years from now depends on his ability to stop pointing fingers, forget partisanship, and end the gross injustice that the camp has come to symbolize. Not merely because he promised, but because it is his oath as President to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

As a nation we can no longer act as the world’s hypocritical, bossy, pedantic teacher – forcing others to clean up their messes, but refusing to clean up our own. If we do not challenge the perverse standards that the Guantanamo Bay detention center has come to represent, we will further lose sight of the founding principles of our nation.

Clean up Guantanamo — or shut it down.