This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Guantanamo Bay fell under the control of the United States in 1898, at the end of the Spanish-American War, and is under a perpetual lease to the American government despite a break in relations between this country and Cuba. It has been in a rather peculiar diplomatic and strategic situation, in other words, for over 100 years. But Americans are most acutely aware of "Gitmo" because of its use by the Bush administration to house "enemy combatants" in the war on terrorism.
The problem is, the detainees – whose numbers have dropped to 245 – do not fall within the province of any conventional judicial system, and some have been held for years without any charges being brought against them.
Since 2002, when prisoners first were brought in from Afghanistan and later Iraq, the prison has been a growing stain on America's image worldwide, called by some a symbol of oppression and denial of human rights. And the U.S. Supreme Court went against the Bush administration in ruling that international law does apply to the detainees, after the administration defended limits on their rights on the grounds that the prisoners were exempt from the protections of such law.
President Obama now has directed, as one of his first major decisions, that Guantanamo will be closed within a year. A task force will consider the steps to take next, and the trials of some of the detainees before military commissions will be reviewed. In addition, Obama wisely is prohibiting torturous interrogations procedures, some of which have been employed at Guantanamo and other sites where terror suspects have been held.
The president has made it clear he believes America can be made safe without abandoning its history of valuing human rights. That can be a difficult balance to strike against determined enemies. But it is crucial that the government do better at meeting that responsibility than President Bush's administration was able to do.
To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.