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Will Closing Guantánamo Make America Safer?

President Obama vowed to close the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects in Cuba by this month, but making it happen is proving a lot harder than he imagined

The battle we are fighting against violent extremists will not be won with military power alone. It will also require using America's powers of persuasion and our stature in the world. That's why the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has become such a liability.

Our nation has long been associated with symbols of freedom: the Statue of Liberty, the Stars & Stripes, our Constitution. Guantánamo, where some prisoners have been held for seven and a half years without trial, is now also a symbol—of our failure to live up to our own ideals.

For much of the world, Guantánamo has come to represent the denial of basic human rights. It symbolizes indefinite imprisonment without access to legal advice, as well as abuse and mistreatment.

Our enemies use Guantánamo as a rallying cry; for groups like Al Qaeda, America's failure to act in accordance with the values we preach has become a way to recruit more people to their cause. In a war of ideals and principles, Guantánamo is a wound we must heal.

Respected military leaders like General David Petraeus and retired General (and Secretary of State) Colin Powell have said we should close Guantánamo. So has Senator John McCain, whose sufferings as a prisoner of war in Vietnam give his opinions added weight. They know that closing Guantánamo will make our nation safer by eliminating that rallying cry. And it will restore our standing so that we can insist that our own troops are treated humanely if captured.

Closing Guantánamo will not be easy; there are many details to work out, and it might seem easier to do nothing. But in this case, the harder decision is also the right one, and the one that will make our nation safer and more secure.

Senator Carl Levin
Democrat of Michigan

Shutting down the prison at Guantánamo Bay and releasing detainees is a gamble—one that seems to value America's popularity abroad over our national security.

The executive order that President Obama signed last January mandating the closure of the prison stipulates that detainees who remain there "shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility" as the government deems necessary.

All of these options jeopardize American security. According to the Pentagon, at least 60 former Guantánamo Bay prisoners have already returned to terrorist activities. One assassinated a judge in Afghanistan.

Shutting down Guantánamo and releasing some detainees will not eliminate the need to find a facility to house and interrogate suspected terrorists. The Pentagon has taken intricate measures to ensure the safety of everyone involved with the Guantánamo prison; moving prisoners to other locations would inevitably make us vulnerable during the transition, as the government adjusts to providing security in a new setting or settings.

Information received from detainees about terrorist operations and personnel has been one of the best ways to ensure a safer America. The Heritage Foundation estimates that 23 terrorist plots against U.S. citizens have been prevented since 9/11 in large part because of intelligence from prisoners.

Releasing prisoners, restructuring the current system, or creating new detention centers to hold these prisoners will impede one of the most important responsibilities of our government—protecting its citizens.

Senator Jim Bunning
Republican of Kentucky

(The New York Times Upfront, Vol. 142, January 18, 2010)