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A Times Editorial

Congress needs to back president on closing Guantanamo Bay prison

Few issues have been more manipulated for political gamesmanship than the debate over President Barack Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and transfer a relatively small number of detainees to prisons in the United States. In a sober, thoughtful speech Thursday at the National Archives, the president laid out a cogent framework to return to the rule of law in the future treatment of terrorism suspects and close the prison.

To emphasize the point, the president spoke while standing before the documents representing the cornerstones of American democracy — the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, observing: "These are not simply words written onto aging parchment . . . Our values have been our best national security asset."

Contrast that message with the vitriol from former Vice President Dick Cheney, who continued his defense Thursday of the Bush administration's use of torture. He recklessly argued after Obama's speech that the new president's revised policies for prosecuting suspected terrorists are encouraging more attacks.

Obama's decision to close Guantanamo and transfer the remaining 240 detainees is the correct one and sends an important message to the world about America's new direction and its recommitment to its founding principles. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has estimated between 50 and 100 of the prisoners could be relocated to U.S. detention facilities to stand trial, and others will be sent to other countries.

Yet there has been a cacophony of Chicken-Little dithering by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who disingenuously proclaimed: "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States." The Senate earlier this week voted to oppose the closing of Guantanamo and relocation of detainees to face trial, citing a phantom national security threat.

If there is anything the United States excels at, it is locking up people. According the Department of Justice, the United States leads the world with a national prison population of more than 2.5 million inmates spread out over more than 2,000 facilities. Surely spare beds can be found for 100 more inmates.

The federal super maximum security institutions in Colorado and Illinois are two of the most impregnable prisons in the world. Our prisons are filled with rapists, serial killers, drug lords, white supremacist assassins, gang leaders, Mafia dons and treasonous spies — extremely dangerous people all, including Ramzi Yousef and Omar Abdel-Rahman, key figures in the first World Trade Center Bombing. Yet no harm has come to the communities where their prisons are located.

The principles of due process and justice require bringing the 100 or so remaining terrorist suspects to the United States to stand trial. As the president noted, the country must " . . . stand for the core values to keep faith with the documents enshrined in this hall."

Congress should quit stalling and work with the president to close Guantanamo, find suitable prisons for those detainees who will be brought to the states, and stop playing into Dick Cheney's hands to needlessly alarm the public.

Congress needs to back president on closing Guantanamo Bay prison 05/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 21, 2009 7:03pm]
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