Closing Guantánamo

There is no good reason to keep the prison open

President Obama’s announcement at a press conference this week that he intends to redouble his efforts to close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, on the eastern tip of Cuba, is welcome news. As he succinctly put it, “Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

He acknowledged that the inmates’ current hunger strike—100 of the 166 detainees are refusing food, and 21 of them are being force-fed—is a motivating factor. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” he said.

Although Congress has put up the biggest roadblocks to closing the prison, there’s a lot the Obama administration can do right now to improve the situation. Eighty-six of the detainees have been cleared for release, some of them for years, but the federal government must certify their transfer to other countries, something it has failed to do. Accelerating that process should be given high priority.

Perhaps the most difficult quandary posed by Guantánamo is what to do with dozens of detainees deemed too dangerous to release but not feasible to prosecute, either because evidence was tainted by torture or simply does not exist. Heretofore the practice has been to detain them indefinitely, without charges, whether at Guantánamo or some other site. But the president seemed to acknowledge that policy was fundamentally contrary to American values.

“The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried,” he said, “that is contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” Indeed it does.