The United States is recognized around the world as a nation founded upon and dedicated to the rule of law, human rights, and justice. Unfortunately, there is one glaring example of American hypocrisy – the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO). Every day Guantanamo remains open, the reputation of the United States suffers worldwide and we continue to fuel our enemies with anti-American propaganda.
Last week, I traveled to GTMO to meet with officials, tour the facility, and visit courtrooms where detainees could, but aren’t, being tried. Opened in 2002, Guantanamo Bay has housed 779 prisoners picked up across the Middle East and held for suspected crimes against the United States. Out of these, the vast majority were captured in exchange for a bounty, half have been determined to never have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its allies, and over 150 have been held for up to 12 years without charge.
Maintaining the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is more about politics than good policy. In 2006, in an effort to keep GTMO open, the Bush Administration moved 16 high-value detainees from CIA black sites to Guantanamo. These 16 men represent the absolute ‘worst of the worst’ of these prisoners and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. But it is important to note that they do not represent the majority of detainees at Guantanamo.
Before President Bush left office, he released close to 600 detainees, leaving 150 who have been there for more than a decade. Today, 86 of the 166 detainees have been cleared by the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community to be transferred to other countries for release or for continued detention abroad. But Congress has restricted transfer of these detainees for the last three years.
What to do with these detainees will become a more pressing question as the U.S. continues to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan. These detainees have been classified over the years as “Prisoners of War” and historical precedent would have us release these men at the conclusion of our military involvement overseas.
At a minimum, the United States needs to provide these detainees with a fair trial.
During my visit, President Obama announced plans to transfer two of the 86 detainees. We are currently spending $2.7 million per detainee each year to house them at GTMO – nearly half a billion dollars annually. At a time when our country is facing the negative effects of sequestration, we should be working to close this expensive and unnecessary facility rather than making it permanent.
GTMO is not worth the damage it inflicts on our international standing, including our credibility in condemning human rights abuses across the world. My ultimate goal remains consistent: shutter the doors of GTMO. I am committed to working with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to find a solution to this complex problem and to give these detainees fair trials.