Obama let us down on Guantánamo | Power & Policy

Obama let us down on Guantánamo

By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

The Power And Policy Fellows’ Forum

By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

“President Obama creates indefinite detention system for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay,” Washington Post article, 8 March 2011

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.

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6 Responses to Obama let us down on Guantánamo

  1. Pingback: Guantánamo policy risks long-term harm to US, former CIA official writes « Arcana Intellego

  2. Jack says:

    A well reasoned article, unlike the praise for the meaningless gesture on international law which also appears here. Obama has let us down on this and every other issue involving human rights and even US civil rights that has come up. In these areas has Obama been any different than Bush III? No, not a bit. Disappointing on health care, taxes, financial reform and other domestic issues , and even Palestinian rights is one thing (and , if not forgivable, at least understandable on purely political grounds) but Obama’s abject failure on civil rights, human rights and basic American values is something else.

  3. Rhonda Johnson says:

    I am disappointed that the prisoners at Guantanamo have not been dealt with, but I am not convinced that Obama let us down on that front. The article states ” If some of these men are released and return to threaten us one day, so be it.” I must disagree. If GWB had information that he was holding dangerous persons capable of 911 and released them with a “so be it” attitude I would be alarmed and disappointed. Any president is responsible to protect national security be he Democrat or Republican. I am disappointed at the reckless approach the article suggests.

  4. David C Smith says:

    The mere fact that we have held foreign prisoners without officially charging them or trying them clearly is in conflict with our wonderful Constitution. Rolf – you take a courageous stance here as this matter is an emotional subject. I applaud your conviction that all people associated with the United States have rights – no matter who they are. We cannot allow the basic rights to be over-run just because it is a new phenomenon and we have not yet figured out how to deal with it. Personally I’d like to see them locked up once they’ve been properly convicted. If found innocent – let them go. The discussion should touch on the next viable alternatives in terms of where to hold them – where to try them and by what means. Expedite to clear the backlog of detainees quickly – then see what we can do to right this wrong of using the short term setup in Guantanamo for a long term solution. Time for some real leadership here – I say take the gloves off and show the whole country what it means to obey the Constitution in a raw, real life dilemma.

  5. Pingback: Jail Without Trial Forever: Andy Worthington Discusses Obama’s Backsliding on Guantánamo on Antiwar Radio | Andy Worthington

  6. As a former CIA officer I am not sure how you can suggest:
    “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.”
    The old rules no longer apply. These men will return to threaten and if possible kill us. They are beyond rehabilitation and if necessary should be kept at Guantanamo for life. Your attitude reminds me of the British soldiers wearing their redcoats marching in the open being picked off by our founding fathers hiding behind trees. Contrary to your suggestion our constitution is in full force and effect protecting all of our citizens.
    Wake up to 2011!!

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