No reason to fear detainees

Apparently, Congress has scribbled some footnotes to Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, engraved inside the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” But don’t bother sending anyone released from detention at Guantanamo Bay.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

You’re sadly mistaken if you believe the United States has any responsibility for innocent men we unfairly rounded up and imprisoned, without trial, for years. We’re not taking them!

President Obama has learned he’s going to have a difficult time carrying out his campaign promise to close the detention facility, even though its ugly reputation has made U.S. efforts to fight terrorism more difficult. It needs to be shut down — pronto.

But Democrats in Congress have been cowed by Republicans, who have used the planned closing of the prison to paint the other party as — wait for it — soft on terrorists.

So Democrats such as Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, were among those who rushed to denounce any plan to give former detainees sanctuary in the continental U.S. Never mind that most of the detainees never participated in any terrorist activities, as former President Bush eventually acknowledged.

So if most of the men at Guantanamo aren’t terrorists, why not just send them to their home countries? Good question.

The answer lies in the complex and less-than-pristine domestic politics of much of the world, where governments don’t even pretend to honor human rights or provide fair hearings for criminal suspects. If the Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs were sent home, for example, they’d undoubtedly be imprisoned for daring to protest their treatment at the hands of the Communist government.

They have told U.S. interviewers repeatedly that they went to a Uighur camp in Afghanistan because they were fleeing persecution in China. They never participated in attacks on Americans; the four released to Bermuda last month said they harbor no ill-will toward the U.S., even after seven years of detention without trial.

However, reckless rhetoric from Dick Cheney and other right-wing fear mongers has not only intimidated congressional Democrats, but it has also persuaded most Americans that the detainees represent a threat. According to last month’s Gallup poll, 65 percent of Americans oppose closing Guantanamo; 74 percent oppose moving any detainees to a prison in their state.

In late June, Obama signed a supplemental appropriations bill which Congress amended to prohibit the release of Guantanamo detainees into the United States and restrict the president’s ability to release them to other countries without congressional approval. If the U.S. is refusing to provide sanctuary to any of the detainees, why should other countries accept them?

The most powerful country in the world is afraid to take four Muslim men, but a small island nation like Bermuda isn’t? The United States imprisons a larger share of its population than any other country, but we can’t imprison the remaining dangerous detainees in maximum-security facilities on continental soil?

The America I celebrate is better than this — more just, more courageous, more responsible. Having unjustly imprisoned men who did not attack us on 9/11, it behooves us to move swiftly to release them and help them reclaim their lives. If Obama has to spend some political capital to help us remember who we are as a nation, he should do so.

Close Gitmo. Close it now.

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