Obama let us down on Guantánamo
The Power And Policy Fellows’ Forum
President Obama has signed an executive order that will create a formal system for prisoners deemed to pose a continuing security threat who are being held at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. With that order, the President has come a long way from his election pledge to close the prison within 12 months.
The question we should be asking is what does this decision mean in terms of defending American values?
This is a sad day for me. I was excited by the President’s bold campaign promise to close Guantanamo. The prison is an affront to American principles. What use is fighting wars if we are willing to sacrifice the very values that men and women are willing to die for? Advancing human freedom and dignity, repudiating cruel and inhuman punishment, and upholding the right to due process, are among the uncommon principles that this nation was founded upon. It is the moral quality and universal appeal of these values that have made America great, not our economic and military power.
In many years representing my country overseas, I was always proud to be an American. I saw first-hand that there is no state more committed to safeguarding the fundamental rights of its citizens. I became convinced that no nation on earth applies the “rule of law” as the U.S. does, even when it is inconvenient to do so—because a rare appreciation of individual rights is anchored in the bedrock of our Constitution. With all of this at stake, it is
vitally important that the US demonstrate to the world that we will not abandon our principles for the sake of expediency.
As a retired CIA officer, I’m not “soft” on terrorism. I’m not advocating that we release dangerous terrorists. I am not saying that U.S. laws should apply to the detainees as for citizens. But even our enemies deserve due process under the law. Even our enemies—especially our enemies–deserve a form of swift and fair justice. If some of these men are released and return to threaten us one day, then so be it; we must not be guided by fear. Terrorists can never achieve their aims through violence if we do not allow them to subvert our values. The far greater threat lies in not defending what this country stands for. Give these men their rights, as we would like for ourselves, as Americans. Then close Guantánamo.
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen is a senior fellow in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. Previously, he served for three years as the Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy, and served for 23 years as a CIA intelligence officer in posts including Chief of the Europe Division in the Directorate of Operations, Chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Department, Counterterrorist Center, and Deputy Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support.