Blog Entry – Christine Sands

A topic of concern brought to my attention is the promised closing of the Guantánamo prison located in Cuba.  Closing Guantánamo prison was a promise made by President Obama on 22 January 2009 near the beginning of his US Presidency.  Under the Bush administration in 2002, prisoners associated with terrorists groups or military operations located in Afghanistan and neighboring countries were – and have continued to be – transported, detained, and tortured at Guantánamo prison.  The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s Final Report states that, “Since 2002, a total of 779 individuals have been detained at Guantánamo in connection with the war against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces”.  This report, which was released in May of this year, shows the examination processes and information needed to evaluate which of the remaining 240 prisoners at the Guantánamo prison facility will be prosecuted, transferred, released or detained indefinitely.  The completion of this report on Guantánamo is viewed as having “fulfill[ed] a central element of the President’s order” to close the Guantánamo prison.

However, closing the Guantánamo prison was to take place within a year from the President’s order back on 22 January 2009.  It appears that shutting down the Guantánamo prison has been delayed due to attempted acts of terrorism and opposition from politicians in the United States.  For example, a Nigerian terrorist, named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to ignite explosives on a plane landing in Detroit on 25 December of last year, causing great concern within the US since Abdulmatallab had ties to the al-Qaida in Yemen.  Events such as this have installed fear in the American public at the proposal of moving the Guantánamo detainees into a maximum-security prison located in Thomson, Illinois.  Although a location for the new prison has been identified showing some progress in the attempts to close the Guantánamo prison, New York Times journalist Charlie Savage discusses how many politicians still feel the Obama administration isn’t doing enough.  This leads to that belief that closing the prison is no longer an important priority of the American government.  Savage also brings to attention the fact that “Guantánamo is a [negative] symbol in the Muslim world of past detainee abuses”.

The Obama administration is also taking criticism from other journalists, such as New York Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof.  At the end of January 2009, Kristof’s column in the New York Times questioned President Obama’s decision to ignore “calls for an investigation into torture and other abuses during the Bush years” regarding the Guantánamo prison.  Kristof even goes as far as to make suggestions about how to go about closing the prison; however, he makes the absurd statement that giving the Guantánamo Bay back to the Cubans is not “politically realistic”, and instead suggests transforming the prison into a research center for tropical diseases.  It disturbs me to realize that whatever the United States chooses to do with the Guantánamo prison facility, whether to just hand it over to the Cubans or to transform it into some sort of research facility, is based primarily on politics.  If the Guantánamo prison were made into a tropical disease research center,  “the United States Government would directly address poverty and health disparities in the worst-off nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean”, as stated by Peter J. Hotez, the editor for the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journal Neglected Tropical Diseases.  Hotez also states that, “It is a moral outrage that a wealthy country like the United States allows its closest neighbors to suffer from some of the world’s worst levels of disease, poverty, and malnutrition.  Reinventing Gitmo to address our hemisphere’s most pressing neglected health problems could help change America’s reputation and legacy in the region”.  This shows the political goals that exist even in the actions that benefit the world’s people: changing Guantánamo into a disease research center would serve as a way to show US concern and cooperation into international needs, therefore possibly building positive alliances with other nations.  However, I believe that transforming the prison into a positive facility would be extensively beneficial.  In my opinion, making progress in the vaccination and elimination of diseases is a wonderful idea.  It is the human rights violations that are of greater concern to me; most journalists only briefly discuss the fact that detainees at the Guantánamo prison endure torture and horrible treatment that violate their human rights.  Also, many detainees are denied repatriation.

An independent journalist that clearly constructs the issues present within the Guantánamo prison and the necessity to shut it down is Andy Worthington.  He is also the author of a book titled The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.  In his section ‘Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who is at Guantánamo?’, Worthington appears very knowledgeable about the situations present in the Guantánamo prison and the problems with evidence acquired from the detainees through means of torture.  He argues that Obama has taken similar stances about the Guantánamo detainees that former President Bush had taken: “support of indefinite detention without charge or trial”, as worded by Worthington.  Based on the reasoning for the delay in closing the prison, I agree with Worthington.  Instead of considering the detainees prisoners of war, who would be protected under the Geneva Conventions as Worthington explains, the detainees are held under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allows the President to take any action, or force, deemed necessary in the fight against terrorism.  Charlie Savage claims that President Obama has “banned brutal interrogations”, but where is the proof?  How do we, the public, know that preventative measures against torture are being enforced?  The uncertainty arising from Obama’s actions and decisions regarding the Guantánamo prison is discouraging for the public and the other nations opposed to the US military base and prison in Cuba.  I believe this issue is of great importance considering the brutality of the past, both through US imperialism and desire to advance counterterrorist operations.  Therefore, Obama should be determined to finally achieve his goal of closing Guantánamo prison and transporting the remaining detainees to the new facility in Illinois while also attempting to repatriate or prosecute them if possible.

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