x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Only closure will heal the sore of Guantanamo

Guantanamo was a bad idea when it opened. A worse idea would be allowing it to continue operating despite serving no practical purpose but to rob those trapped there of human rights and dignity.

Guantanamo Bay "has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law". The US president, Barack Obama, made this statement on Thursday. It was a bold admission from a man who is partly responsible for allowing this symbol to persist. But bolder still would be turning words into action.

For people outside the United States, it does not matter how the prison's closure has been stalled by domestic American politics. It means little that promises by Mr Obama, made within hours of taking office, have been rendered unfeasible by Congress.

What matters is that the US, which has waged wars and pressured foreign governments to reform in the name of democracy and human rights, is still violating the fundamental values it has supposedly long espoused.

When the US does finally make good on Mr Obama's promise and Guantanamo is closed, one question that will remain is this: what was the prison's point? Originally meant as a way station to prevent prisoners from challenging their detention (a position that was found unconstitutional) the facility has become more of a recruiting tool for anti-American sentiment, much like drone strikes.

In fact, there are few signs that the prison has been anything more than a sink for American tax money. Unlike efforts to reform terrorists in Saudi Arabia, for instance (which has used art therapy, among other novel approaches), America's holding pen has done little to promote change in the lives of those incarcerated.

The US president says he understands this; as proof, he has called for a lifting of the moratorium on the transfer of 86 prisoners, including 56 Yemenis. Many of those awaiting transfer have been on hunger strike in recent weeks to focus attention on their continued detention.

Yet promising to release prisoners who are no longer considered enemy combatants will not lead to empty cells. Mr Obama has long had the presidential authority to authorise transfers, but he's chosen not to. David Remes, a lawyer who has represented a number of Yemeni inmates, says he is worried Mr Obama has simply "created the illusion of forward momentum". For the dozens of men awaiting transfer, there is only one way to move forward: by going home.

The Guantanamo prison was a bad idea when it opened. A worse idea would be allowing it to continue operating despite serving no practical purpose but to rob those trapped there of due process, human rights and dignity.

It is time for Mr Obama to end this stain on America's conscience.