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Guantánamo Eight Years On

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Nancy Talanian

After the attempted bombing aboard a U.S. plane on December 25th, politicians from both sides of the aisle lost no time in publicly questioning President Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo Bay prison, to repatriate any of the 90 remaining Yemeni prisoners, or both. Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Susan Collins; Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman; Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein; and several House members are among those who have thus far expressed their discomfort with some or all of the president’s closure plans.

The six Yemeni men whom the Obama administration had repatriated one week before the Christmas attempt will be held in the Yemeni government’s custody “indefinitely.”
Although the Obama administration does not appear to be backing down on its plan to close the prison, grassroots education of the U.S. public and our Congress is needed more than ever to correct misperceptions. Here are a few observations that have been largely missing from the heated debate:
  1. Had the Bush administration properly vetted the men it sent to Guantánamo prior to their imprisonment and used court oversight to determine whom to release, it would not have released Said al-Shiri, a Saudi who is an alleged ringleader of the recent bombing attempt.
  2. We do not know Abdulmutallab’s motivation for allegedly agreeing to bomb the plane bound for Detroit. However, we know from U.S. interrogators that the leading cause, by far, driving young men to fight Americans is the torture that has taken place at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay prisons.
  3. It is beyond the time that the rule of law, not the prisoners’ home addresses, must drive our government’s plans for releasing prisoners. The fates of the six Yemeni men who were released last month and the 90 who remain at Guantánamo should not depend on the problems of the Yemeni government or on alleged terrorist plots they knew nothing about.
The Obama administration now expects to close the prison by 2011, but Congress has already voted against funding the closure and against allowing any of the men to resettle within the United States. Congress’s already weak support for the closure can be expected to weaken even further in the 2010 midterm election year, especially if more attacks against the U.S. are attempted, unless they see the closure as something the American people want.
That is why we see our local chapters’ work to educate their communities as essential. We regularly hear stories from NMG coalition members about how their prisoners’ stories helped them break through with someone who had succumbed to fear-mongering about the men at Guantánamo.  Help us help you bring the story of a Guantánamo or Bagram detainee to your community, so that your neighbors can separate truth from fiction and stop fearing equal justice for all the men.