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Why We Exist: Closing Guantánamo the Right Way

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Nancy Talanian

When Guantánamo Bay prison will actually close is anyone’s guess, but the closing alone will not matter unless our country changes along with it and our government, going forward, affirms its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. As we near the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay prison, we are constantly bombarded with signs that such a day is still far off. Here are a few culled from recent news:

  • Our government has left a former child soldier no choice but to confess to a crime that he previously admitted to only when coerced.
  • It continues to hide prisoners at Bagram, without sharing basic facts with the public, just as it did in the early days of Guantánamo Bay prison.
  • President Bush boasted that he ordered prisoners to be tortured (although he refuses to call waterboarding “torture”), apparently feeling confident that he will never face legal action for having done so.
  • A CIA official has avoided prosecution for destroying videotaped evidence of harsh interrogations that a court had ordered preserved.


The basic effects of stories like these are that government officials feel justified for ignoring the rule of law, much of the public believes that the government’s actions are necessary to protect their safety, and many of those who disagree with that assumption gradually lose hope of seeing any change.

What can we do when we are confronted with frequent scare-mongering and surrounded by people who fear more terrorist attacks? Few who are convinced that torture and indefinite detention are necessary have been receptive to the argument that the rule of law is important for our country, and that it can even make our country safer. NMG believes there is an important reason why scare-mongerers try to hide the identities of their prisoners, or imply that they are all just like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: If people could see the prisoners as human beings like themselves, with lives, passions, careers, and families, they would demand that the men receive the same rights that they expect for themselves: to be charged with crimes and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

That is why we formed, and why the town meetings of Amherst and Leverett, Massachusetts, voted overwhelmingly to welcome former Guantánamo detainees to live in their communities. We now have eight chapters nationally, who are telling the stories of prisoners at Guantánamo and Bagram. Residents of Berkeley, California, are now organizing to pass a city council resolution modeled after those passed in Massachusetts. If the resolution passes, we hope it will inspire other community coalitions to use the prisoners’ stories in their communities, and to gradually move our society and our government away from the era of Guantánamo and torture.