Today is the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the second-most-recognized symbol of our national shame (after the abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq). The prison represents a time when we let fear, rather than reason, dictate our treatment of prisoners — when we abandoned our moral values either because we were afraid or because we were angry and sought vengeance, or both.
How can we let Guantanamo, the symbol of all that we did wrong in our efforts to protect our country, continue to exist?
President Barack Obama used to appear to agree. In August 2007, he made a campaign promise to close the prison. Two days after taking office in January 2009, he reiterated that promise with an executive order to close the prison by January 2010. The prison remains open.
It is time for our elected leaders to pay attention to those who are knowledgeable, not just to political rhetoric, and close Guantanamo, releasing those charged with no crimes and prosecuting those who may be guilty in a federal court.
Our federal courts and our civilian judicial system have handled quite well the terrorism cases that have crossed their dockets On the contrary, the military commissions have been fraught with problems and complaints, not only from outside observers but also from their own prosecutors.
It is time to admit that we made some mistakes. No matter how Guantanamo is reformed, it will never lose the stink of the past. Guantanamo's indelible mark handicaps the United States in our foreign dealings and, whether we like it or not, taints whatever happens there. The idea that justice can be served at Guantanamo has been long since abandoned by many Americans and those we would have respect us abroad.
Perhaps some people do not care if justice is served. Perhaps they are satisfied to keep whatever problems Guantanamo was designed to solve far, far away. But that is foolish.
If we ignore our own past, that does not mean that the rest of the world forgets. It is time to face up to the errors in judgment that well-meaning, earnest people committed in misguided attempts to keep America safe.
We know from trained intelligence officers that the abuses that occurred have caused us far more harm than good — even now, long after they took place. What a recruiting tool for jihadists. What great propaganda against the United States.
Intelligence officers tell us that the most reliable information is obtained by building a relationship with the prisoner. Let's remember that while the popular TV show "24" portrayed the hero torturing the bad guys to gain valuable information to save thousands of lives, the show was merely fiction.
During World War II, the United States developed a legacy of fair treatment; prisoners willingly surrendered to the Americans because they knew they weren't putting their lives in danger. More recently, I recall a friend, an American, who was secretly detained by the Serbs during an era of great tension between Serbia and the U.S. He was assured that they would treat him as they would be treated if detained in American hands. He was released unharmed.
We call ourselves a nation of faith — and every religion requires that we honor the dignity of persons, that we honor the image of God in everyone. To torture is counter to every religious tenet. If we are to honor our religious, spiritual or ethical beliefs, then how can we ignore our history of treating people as subhuman? As people of faith, how can we not seek to repair our broken promise to our God? It is troubling that even today, many who call themselves religious support torturing prisoners. I can only think that they have no understanding of what they espouse.
A decade after Guantanamo's founding, I join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in calling for the closing of Guantanamo and the instituting of an official commission of inquiry into the facts of what happened there. Such steps would address our past with open eyes and courage. Our public, told over the past decade that torture could keep it safe, needs to hear the truth.
Suzanne H. O'Hatnick is chairwoman of the Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture, a member of the board of directors of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture Action Fund, and a member of Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. Her email is email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times