By Claire Syrett, Field Director
January 11, 2012, marked a somber anniversary – the arrival of the first prisoners to Guantánamo Bay prison 10 years ago. It is shocking to realize that there are men who have endured 10 long years incarcerated in our very own American gulag. It is especially shocking when you consider that only four of 779 men held there have received even the semblance of a trial. Now we wait to see how long the remaining 171 men still held there will remain in legal limbo. Will it be another 10 years? 20?
For those Americans who stood up to protest Guantánamo on this anniversary of its opening the answer is clear; Guantánamo must be shut down now. I raised that rally cry at a demonstration in Corvallis organized by the local Veterans for Peace group among others. The sight of a line of orange jump-suited “prisoners” wearing black hoods parading through downtown and onto the Oregon State University campus drew plenty of attention. More importantly this and the many other protests held around the country served to remind Americans that it is past time to close this terrible chapter of American history and recognize the constitutional and human rights of those still held there.
Yet the road to closure is treacherous and even more so now with the recent passage of the Defense Reauthorization Act. This legislation, signed by President Obama on New Year’s Eve, includes a provision that can be interpreted as giving the President the power to declare a U.S. citizen to be an enemy combatant and hold that person indefinitely without trial or charge. Thus we have come full circle from a country that threw off the yoke of royal tyranny--wherein a king could throw you in the dungeon by labeling you an enemy of the state--to one with a president that claims to have that very same authority.
The ACLU and its allies will continue to fight these unconstitutional laws and powers in the courts and in the halls of Congress but we cannot be successful without the support, outrage and action of American voters. We who value our Constitution and Bill of Rights must inspire a return to real American values of fair treatment, due process, and respect for human rights. President Obama and Congress must know that the people of America demand due process for all those accused of terrorism regardless of nationality; that we do not accept the notion that the United States can hold people indefinitely in a legal limbo. We demand that the remaining men being held at Guantánamo be released or tried for their alleged crimes. This prison must be shut down. Join us in sending this message to President Obama.