Lecture for Harris Institute, Washington University School of Law
“Guantánamo and the Rule of Law”
October 20, 2009
Jonathan Hafetz, co-editor of The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law
Cross-Posted from theguantanamolawyers.com
Forty years ago, America put the first man on the moon, a feat that remains an enduring symbol of promise and possibility. Today, after more than eight years, America cannot seem to find a solution to the fate of some 200 prisoners languishing at Guantánamo Bay that honors the most basic values of its Constitution. How can a nation capable of accomplishing so much, be incapable of so little?
Following his inauguration in January, President Obama announced that Guantánamo must be closed within a year, and that doing so was required both by America’s values and its security. Four months later, in a speech at the National Archives—the repository of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution—Obama reminded the country that “the existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” Now, however, it increasingly likely that the scheduled closure date will not be met, as high-level administration officials—testing the political waters for the coming let-down—have begun citing a litany of complications—some real, others imagined—for the anticipated delay.
To be sure, closing Guantánamo is not easy, particularly not with Congress intent to raise road blocks in the form of NIMBY-inspired appropriations measures that restrict the transfer of detainees to the United States, even for incarceration in existing maximum security prisons. But, let’s be perfectly clear, it’s not rocket science easier.
As one European official recently said in frustration, “America seems to like its Guantánamo. Let them have it.”
Guantánamo represents all that it is wrong—legally, morally, and strategically—with the “war on terror.” It has become an icon of lawless detention, torture, and secrecy. It has also become a chilling example of how long and hard a government will fight to suppress the truth and perpetuate a lie.
What is Guantánamo really about?