On Tuesday, President Obama sent a plan to Congress outlining steps to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“For many years it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay does not advance our national security,” the president said at a press conference announcing the nine-page plan.
The detention center has become monument to America’s darker side during the war on terror. Guantánamo Bay, which has notoriously held prisoners without charge or trial, opened in January of 2002 and has held well over 800 inmates, the vast majority of whom were foreign nationals, according to Amnesty International.
Closing the prison has been a high priority for Obama for many years, and was a promise he made on the campaign trail. The issue, though once bipartisan, has since become highly political, with such politicians as Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz saying, “Don’t shut down [Guantánamo Bay], expand it.”
Obama, though, is adamant in his resolve, saying, “I am very clear eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantánamo. The politics of this are tough… I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?”
Currently 91 prisoners still remain at the facility. Of those 91, Obama’s plan proposes transferring between 30 and 60 to prisons in America. The remaining prisoners would be sent to other countries.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein praised the proposal in a statement. Zeid noted the prison’s human rights violations and the bad reputation it has garnered the U.S. He urged the U.S. to either charge or release the remaining inmates.
“All Guantánamo detainees should either be transferred to regular detention centers in the US mainland or other countries where fair trials before civilian courts and due process guarantees can be provided in accordance with international norms and standards,” Zied said. “If there is insufficient evidence to charge them with any crime, they must be released to their home country or to a third country if they risk persecution at home.”
Despite the obstacles Obama faces from the Republican controlled Congress, he remained optimistic, saying there was “an opportunity here for progress,” and that “we’ve got an obligation to try.”
“The plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantánamo. It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees… This is about closing a chapter in our history,” he said. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values… It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”
Closing Guantánamo Bay is a necessary step in the continued fight against terrorism, in restoring habeas corpus, and in making continued progress toward peace and reconciliation between the U.S. and the Middle East if the U.S. wants to be the moral compass.