Last month marked the tenth anniversary of British resident Shaker Aamer’s detention at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. This Wednesday, the Colorado Mountain College Amnesty International Club is hosting “GITMO Game Show” at noon in the campus cafeteria to help inform students about Guantanamo and Aamer’s case. Aamer has been held without charge or trial, and the U.S. has acknowledged that we have no evidence against him. He was cleared for release in 2007 under the Bush administration and again by the Obama administration in 2009. Sadly, his wife and four children, all British citizens, anxiously awaited his return only to learn he was not on board the jet carrying a fellow Guantanamo detainee back to Britain.
Aamer has acted selflessly in his time at Guantanamo, engaging in hunger strikes that have been successful in improving the prison conditions of his fellow detainees. He is being held in solitary confinement and is reported to be in very poor health. The reluctance to release Aamer is likely a result of his treatment at the hands of CIA and British MI5 interrogators prior to his transfer to Guantanamo, as well as what he has endured and witnessed in his ten years there. His resolve and nonviolent resistance in the grimmest of conditions have inspired many around the world.
Stories such as Aamer’s have become a primary recruiting tool for our enemies, including al-Qaida and others who wish to portray our country as inherently evil. Our congressmen rely on Guantanamo as political fodder, claiming it would threaten our security to transfer these detainees to prisons on U.S. soil and try them in our federal courts. This argument only serves to project weakness, that we are afraid to keep them here and that we do not believe in our own justice system. The reality is that hundreds of terrorists have been successfully tried and convicted in U.S. federal courts. The annual cost per detainee for the 171 held at Guantanamo is about $700,000 per year. Many of our most prominent military and intelligence leaders have called for the closure of the Guantanamo prison including CIA Director and retired Army General David Petraeus (former Commander of U.S. Central Command), retired Army General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense (under Obama and Bush) Robert Gates, former Guantanamo Chief Prosecutor Morris Davis and at least 20 other retired generals and admirals.
President Barack Obama has ended the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” but has fallen short on the promise he made his first month in office to close Guantanamo. In fact, in December, our Congress overwhelmingly passed and our president signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which could keep Guantanamo open permanently. Under this act, U.S. citizens also could be held indefinitely without charge or trial and even transferred to the Guantanamo prison camp.
I personally believe the U.S. is still the greatest country on Earth. To retain this status will require not only military strength, but also that we conduct ourselves according to the values and principles that made our country what it is. Habeas corpus precludes detention without charge and is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Nothing about holding a prisoner for ten years without evidence, charge or trial reflects American values. It dishonors our country and the brave servicemen and servicewomen who risk their lives to protect our way of life. Free Shaker Aamer and allow him to spend his remaining years with his family.
Steamboat Springs Amnesty International local group No. 1104