The reasons are many, but chief among them, for me, is what the prison symbolizes: abuse, illegality, and the politicization of justice.
To be sure, extremists who attack free and open societies like America deserve tough punishment, but if we want to keep our societies free and open, we must honor our values when we carry out that punishment. The gulag-like institution of GTMO has as of this writing yet to effectively try and sentence 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad — he lives while his victims fade into history — but when we honor our laws the system works: The Justice Department effectively tried and sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death in 2015. Likewise, in the aftermath of World War II, American civil prosecutors led the Nuremburg trials that brought swift justice to Nazi war criminals.
Some politicians continue to cynically use GTMO to manipulate voters. This is foolish. When President Obama ran for office eight years ago on a platform to close the institution, voters, many of them conservative, sent a clear message of agreement, electing him in a landslide. In a tough battle for a second term — against a popular conservative who opposed closing GTMO — Obama continued his efforts to close the prison, and won again. Promoting torture and gulags will always inspire some, but is not a winning strategy in the long term.
GTMO was a mistake. It remains a symbol of failure. It’s time to correct course and close it down, and show the world that America learns from her mistakes — and intends to reassert her role as a world leader in promoting and respecting human rights. Human Rights First presents the case in detail:
The continued detention of prisoners without charge at Guantanamo undermines our national security and is a recruiting bonanza for our enemies. We’ve joined forces with a group of retired generals and admirals; together we are pressing President Obama to deliver on his promise to shut down the prison.