Amnesty International recently took a hit on the talk show circuit for calling Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray detention center "the gulag of our time." President Bush called the label "absurd," as did the usual gaggle of conservative commentators.
But gulag or not, the seemingly unending stream of embarrassing revelations coming out of Camp X-Ray, and the negative impact they are having on our nation’s international image, are enough to consider closing the facility entirely.
We all saw the protests, both violent and non-violent, around the world in response to the now retracted Newsweek allegation that a Quran had been flushed down a toilet by a Camp X-Ray guard. After attacking Newsweek for this allegation, the administration later revealed five incidents of Quran "mishandling" by guards, including splashing urine on the holy text.
In response to the controversy, the administration officials and their supporters sought to shoot the media messenger instead of dealing with the real impact of the desecration allegations. But media-bashing is not going to "spin" us out of this one.
Both former President Carter and the New York Times editorial page have now come out in favor of closing Camp X-Ray. The Times called it "a propaganda gift to America’s enemies" that is an embarrassment to our allies, a repudiation of our nation’s justice system and a recruiting tool for terrorists.
Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is also urging President Bush to consider shutting down the camp, arguing that negative publicity coming from it is hurting our war on terror.
So much of the debate about Guantanamo centers on detainee abuse, that it often misses the most important point – whether or not the camp is effective in helping to protect our nation from harm.
Guantanamo has unfortunately become a symbol of America’s excesses in the war on terror. The real or perceived security gains from Camp X-Ray are now being undermined by growing anti-American sentiment over the mistreatment of detainees.
In the aftermath of the Iraq war and the subsequent Abu Ghraib scandal,
Muslims in many parts of the world are skeptical of what we say, and Camp X-Ray provides the perfect talking point for America’s detractors.
Concrete action must be taken to restore America’s image and the reputation of our armed services and legal tradition.
First, Congress should conduct a full hearing on prisoner abuse worldwide. Without an independent bi-partisan inquiry similar to the 9/11 Commission, we will never know the full truth behind the allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by American military, security and intelligence personnel in American’s detention facilities in Guantanamo, Afghanistan or Iraq.
Second, there must be an end to so-called "rendition," sending prisoners to other nations with the understanding that they will be tortured there. This practice not only violates American and international laws, it decreases worldwide respect for our nation.
Finally, we must begin a national debate to come up with a better and smarter way to fight the war on terror. Regaining our lost credibility is a matter of national security.
The best way to begin regaining that credibility is to immediately close the Camp X-Ray detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.