Permanent imprisonment at Guantanamo betrays American values

One hundred prisoners held in the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in a hunger strike -- a desperate attempt to get the attention of President Obama, who was elected in 2008 having promised to shut the place down. Not only did Obama fail to close the facility, his administration has neglected to appoint anyone to oversee repatriation of the 86 current prisoners who have been cleared for release.

Among the 166 detainees at Guantanamo, some, no doubt, are true enemies of the United States. It is no secret, however, that hapless fringe characters and many completely innocent men were also swept up in the fog of the George W. Bush administration’s "war on terror" and sent to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo. A Kabul taxi driver who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time spent a year of his life in detention. One British citizen spent five years imprisoned because he looked like somebody else who was an authentic bad guy. An Afghan who had fought alongside American troops at Tora Bora was accused falsely by someone with a grudge against him and ended up with a one-way trip to Cuba.

It is absurd to have to point this out, but too many members of Congress seem to have forgotten: The American Revolution was fought, in part, on the principle that no person should be kept in prison without a chance to defend himself, face his accusers and be judged by a fair court. Abandoning this American ideal, Republicans have blocked most efforts to do anything but keep these alleged “enemy combatants” locked up with no hope of justice. To his discredit, the president has shied from the fight, letting political considerations deter him from upholding a core promise of the Constitution.

Sure, the argument is made that, because the Guantanamo detainees are not U.S. citizens and are quasi-prisoners of war, they do not have rights, but that argument is counter to bedrock American beliefs. The Declaration of Independence says all men are endowed with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights have been taken away from these prisoners. It is time for the government to prove that they gave up those rights by committing acts worthy of imprisonment. And it is way past time to release those who already have been determined to be of no threat to this country.

There are few acts more tyrannical than keeping innocent men captive. It is no secret that this has been happening at Guantanamo and that it is an intentional political choice. This dishonors America. It is a cruel hypocrisy that, ultimately, makes us no better than a banana republic.

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