The U.S. Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act last Tuesday, effectively denying President Obama the chance to follow through on his 2008 campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba. Both chambers of Congress have majorities large enough in support of the act that a veto from the President would ultimately be overridden. The only remaining course of action available to Obama may be to bypass Congressional approval with an executive order, an action that he can and should take in the name of national security and human rights.
As the commander in chief, it is within Obama’s delegated powers to decide upon the placement of detainees captured in a war approved by Congress. It is also his responsibility to strive to preserve the reputation of our country, and Guantanamo stands only to represent values antithetical to our own of morality and democracy. Prisoners have been tortured and held without due process — a legal travesty justified by its existence outside U.S. borders alone. Currently, 107 detainees remain imprisoned in Guantanamo, 56 of whom were cleared for release over five years ago by the president’s Guantanamo Review Task Force. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes all of our NATO partners as members, has taken notice of this prison as a glaring contradiction. In a 278-page report they have called for the transfer, prosecution or release of the remaining prisoners, calling their continued detention a violation of international standards and laws.
There is a possibility released prisoners might return to terrorist groups, lauded as heroes and inclined to commit future atrocities against the country that mercilessly detained them. However, the threat of existing terrorists returning is outweighed by the recruitment of more. Guantanamo, a symbol of American cruelty, is an incredible source of propaganda for extremist groups looking to recruit new members. Closing Gitmo would allow the United States to regain lost moral high ground and give potential terrorists one less reason to carry out attacks against our country.
Time is running out for Obama to secure his legacy. He should make the moves possible to ensure that this blight on the conscience of a nation devoted to human rights and democracy is dealt with appropriately. This is not a matter for Congress to unilaterally decide, it is one that our commander in chief should make and one that Obama in his last term is uniquely positioned to act upon. In the wake of recent terrorist attacks, the closure of Guantanamo would serve as a message to the world that the United States does not compromise its values in the face of fear, but stands on a firm ground of law and morality.
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