Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

Five New Reasons (and One Old One) Why We Must Close Guantanamo Now

A surprising poll shows that by wide margins, Americans don't want to see Gitmo shut down -- here's why it should be closed forever.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

Splashed on the front page of USA Today this week were the surprising results of a poll finding that a wide majority of Americans now oppose the closing of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. "By more than 2-1, those surveyed say Guantánamo shouldn't be closed. By more than 3-1, they oppose moving some of the accused terrorists housed there to prisons in their own states," USA Today reported.

USA Today's poll results present a major political challenge to President Barack Obama, who has repeatedly vowed to close the detention camp by early next year, and who already faces a battle over Gitmo with Congress.

How could it be that after such an endlessly devastating era of high-profile lawlessness, torture, rigged trials, and prisoner deaths -- and years after Bush officials themselves acknowledged the need to shutter the prison camp -- a majority of Americans want to keep it open?

It is a testament to the ageless power of political fearmongering. In the months since Obama vowed to close Guantánamo in an executive order that was met with relief and praise by human rights advocates worldwide, the debate over how and when to do so has been hijacked and utterly skewed.

Despite all we have learned about the prisoners held there -- the fact, for starters, that only a fraction of them are actually self-avowed terrorists who have plotted anti-American acts -- much of the political establishment has stuck with the argument that Guantánamo might just be the only place for these "terrorists," promising that under no circumstances will they allow them to be brought onto U.S. soil.

Apparently the fearmongering is working. "Coming up on eight years after Sept. 11, fear remains, and fear is politically potent," political scientist Paul Freedman of the University of Virginia , who studies public opinion, told USA Today. "When it comes to the issue of terrorism ... people are inclined to err on the side of that fear."

"I feel like all the ground we gained over the past five years has been lost in the last five weeks," says activist Matthew Daloisio, a member of Witness Against Torture, which has advocated relentlessly for the closure of the prison camp.

This cannot stand. There's too much at stake when it comes to human rights, American democracy and the perception of the United States abroad. It's time to cut through the noise of political rhetoric and cable news and set the record straight. Below are five new reasons -- and at least one old one -- why closing Guantánamo Bay cannot wait.

Reason #1: The Torture Continues

So Obama was inaugurated, and that means no more torture, right?

Not quite.

In an interview with former CBS news anchor Dan Rather revealed this week, former Guantánamo prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene -- the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court ruling grating habeas corpus rights to prisoners at Gitmo -- claimed that torture is still going on under Obama. “Nothing change in Guantánamo,” he said. “They torture me in the Obama time more than Bush.”

Boudemiene described being force-fed at Guantánamo using methods that were deliberately made "as painful and uncomfortable as possible." The claim echoes the treatment of prisoners described in an in-depth article published by AlterNet last month by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, who documented the existence of brutal thug squads known as "Immediate Reaction Force" (IRF) teams that have routinely terrorized prisoners since day one.

The tactics used by these forces -- nicknamed the "Extreme Repression Force" by some -- include gang-beating prisoners, breaking their bones, gouging their eyes and dousing them with chemicals at the slightest sign of resistance or simple failure to follow protocol. It also includes force feeding prisoners who refuse to eat.