U.S. President Barak Obama is trying to keep good on his 2008 campaign promise to close down the Notorious Guantanamo Prison. On Tuesday, he officially announced his intention to close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and transfer most of the detainees to a facility in the U.S., a proposal the Catholic Bishops has long pushed for since the torture practices widely used at the facility strongly violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security – it undermines it,” Obama stated on Tuesday morning at the White House.
“Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” he added. “As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law. But 15 years after 9/11 – 15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history – we still have to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks.”
The detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was established in January 2002. The prison camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes.
The prisoners have uncertain rights due to their location not on American soil. There have been serious allegations of torture and abuse of prisoners. Detainees are quartered in different parts of a Camp according to their level of cooperation with guards and interrogators, when detainees cooperate and are thought to show no security risk they are moved to a section of the building which has a shower and lavatory. Almost 800 detainees have reportedly passed through Guantanamo from 2001-2008.
In 2006, the United Nations called unsuccessfully for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed, speaking out against the prolonged detention of prisoners without trial.
US bishops have long expressed their support for the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo, detention camp which has been the subject of harsh criticism since its establishment in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
“Detainees have the right to a just and fair trial held in a timely manner,” Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2013 over the situation at the prison.
Bishop Pates cited Catholic social teaching to protest against indefinite detention in his November, 2013 letter to the U.S. Senate:
“At the same time, our moral teaching says that the human rights of detainees must be respected and that ‘the identification of the guilty party must be duly proven.’ The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church calls for ‘trials (to be) conducted swiftly: their excessive length is becoming intolerable for citizens and results in a real injustice (No. 404).’”
After visiting the prison in 2006, Cardinal Renato Martino, the then-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the Italian wire news service ANSA that “it seems clear that human dignity is not being fully respected in that prison.”
“Everyone has a right to a fair trial,” he added. “Wherever in the world inmates are being held in such conditions, without even knowing the charges they face, we will not fail to defend them.”
Several Republican lawmakers have already voiced opposition to the plan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan expressing his disapproval for the plan said, “President Obama has yet to convince the American people that moving Guantanamo terrorists to our homeland is smart or safe.”