The Senate Holds Hearing on Closing Guantanamo

For the first time in four years, the Congress held a hearing to consider the closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.  In a sub-committee meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, human rights groups and military officials gave testimony about why it is not only in America’s moral interest to end the indefinite detention of prisoners but also in its national security interest.  Retired Army personnel testified that the number one reason why terrorist organizations are successfully recruiting people is the inhumane treatment of prisoners both in Abu Graib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.  Witnesses also testified to the absurd cost of keeping the prison open, which totals to roughly $2.7 million per year per prisoner, as compared to just $78,000 to house the same prisoners in maximum security prison in America.

In recent months, prisoners in Guantanamo have engaged in a hunger strike to protest the conditions in which they are imprisoned.  In response, the military has engaged in a practice of force-feeding the prisoners, by inserting a feeding tube up the prisoners’ noses and into their stomachs twice per day.  This treatment is considered inhumane by the UN and has been denounced by many national and international human rights and medical ethics groups. A military psychiatrist, Stephen Xenakis, testified that the practice threatened significant emotional and mental damage to the prisoners, who should be considered competent enough to decide whether or not they wish to eat.

While most members of the Senate Committee present, as well as most of those who testified, argued for the closure of the prison, proponents of keeping Guantanamo open cited the recidivism rate (28%) of detainees who are released who reengage with terrorist organizations.  Witness Frank Gaffney also brought up the concern that Guantanamo Bay inmates might resort to violence or proselytizing for extremist groups if detained in American high security prisons, or that communities with these prisons would themselves become targets of terrorist attacks. Chairman Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) retorted that the prison system in the US is already filled with terrorists and murderers and knows how to accommodate potentially violent people – the Guantanamo Bay prisoners would not provide a new threat.

In the wake of the attacks on 9/11, the Union for Reform Judaism recognized the need to safeguard America’s commitment to human rights and civil liberties. In a 2003 resolutions on “Civil Liberties and National Security: Striking the Proper Balance” the Union denounced the practices of indefinite detention and trial of terrorist suspects in military courts with significantly reduced rights. In 2005 the Union decried the revelations of torture and mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and other military facilities, and in 2008 the Commission on Social Action formally called for the prison at Guantanamo to be closed.

The hearings last week do not represent a new conversation, but an old one that is finally gaining momentum – check back here as the efforts to close Guantanamo continue.

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About Benny Witkovsky

Benny Witkovsky is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, he is from Madison, WI, and recently graduated from Vassar College.

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