Incarcerating the first alleged terrorists in the Guantanamo Bay prison on Jan. 11, 2002, was a fear-driven, immoral act that merely gave other terrorists more reasons to want to attack the U.S. And now things are worse. In fact, 20 years and billions of dollars later, only two of the almost 780 prisoners sent to Gitmo have been convicted of anything. And no trial dates have been set for any the final 37 men imprisoned there. Indeed, only 10 of them have been charged with any crime at all. Seven different U.S. intelligence agencies have designated and cleared for transfer more than a dozen other Gitmo prisoners but none of those has yet been moved.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks that murdered nearly 3,000 people, including my own nephew, gave Americans many good reasons to fear additional attacks and to want those responsible to be arrested and punished. But the way the George W. Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden administrations have gone about that task has been a catastrophic failure that has stained America’s reputation around the world. President Joe Biden, who, like Barack Obama before him, has indicated a desire to close Gitmo, needs to get that done yesterday. But when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act at the end of December, he properly bemoaned the fact that Congress again has refused to spend money to do that.
One recent indication of how calamitous Gitmo has been for America came in late October when a jury of eight senior U.S. military officials sentenced Majid Khan, a suburban Baltimore high school graduate turned al-Qaida courier, to 26 years in prison on terrorism-related charges to which he pleaded guilty in 2012. That was roughly the lowest sentence allowed under court instructions. Seven of those eight jurors then signed a letter handwritten by the jury foreman asking for clemency for Khan and decrying his violent treatment in Central Intelligence Agency black sites (in effect, secret torture chambers) before he was sent to Guantanamo in 2009. Here’s part of what those jurors said: “Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history. This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests. Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government.”
These weren’t radical left-wing peace protesters or clergy pronouncing theological condemnation. These were career military people who were rightly appalled by what the country they are sworn to defend did in their — and our — names. And at what cost? Well, yes, at the price of over half a billion dollars a year to run Gitmo. (Imagine using that money to pay preschool teachers a fair salary or feed hungry people.) But the cost to our moral standing in the world has been much higher. For 20 years, the U.S. has violated international standards for treating enemy combatants and has given people who find America detestable more damning evidence to support their argument. $2 for 2 months Subscribe for unlimited access to our Lots of Americans, including members of an organization in which I’ve been active lately, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, have been working hard to get Gitmo closed. Indeed, just over a year ago, as the Biden administration was taking office, I spoke for the 9/11 family members group in an op-ed I wrote for USA Today, urging quick closure of the prison.
“By calling these prisoners ‘detainees,’” I wrote, “the United States is trying to get around the Geneva Conventions, which say it’s illegal to retain people indefinitely without a trial. The ‘detainee’ designation is a thinly veiled sham, and Americans should demand that the new Biden administration do better by seeking a speedy resolution of all cases against prisoners held at Gitmo.’” But here we are, still waiting. As fellow Peaceful Tomorrows member Colleen Kelly testified at a recent U.S. Senate hearing on Gitmo, “family members and the injured want a measure of accountability and justice before our deaths. Our government failed to protect its citizens on Sept. 11. And our government has failed for two decades to bring those responsible to justice.”
Even the five people charged with helping to plan the 9/11 attacks remain untried and imprisoned there. When my 9/11-related book, “Love, Loss and Endurance,” was published a year ago, I hoped the 20th anniversaries of the attacks and of Gitmo’s use would bring us some acceptable resolution. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, our government has simply added to the pain for 9/11 families and increased the humiliation all Americans should feel because of this failure.
Bill Tammeus, former Kansas City Star columnist, writes the Faith Matters blog and is author of “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. Email him at email@example.com.
Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/readers-opinion/guest-commentary/article256937782.html#storylink=cpy