06/10/2005 12:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Guantanamo: A Modest Proposal

There have been several stories in the press in recent days about the desirability of closing the American detention center (prison) in Guantanamo. Jimmy Carter thinks we should; Donald Rumsfeld thinks we shouldn't; W is apparently undecided.

It would, of course, be intrinsically desirable to shut the prison down; and it might also do something positive for international opinion about the United States -- since Gitmo has become an emblem of the abuse of power by the United States.

I would suggest that we go a giant step further: we should not only close the prison, but we should return Guantanamo in its entirety to the Cubans. It is "ours" only because we seized it by force: while our troops were in Cuba a century ago, we compelled the Cubans to agree to "lease" the base to us for a nominal rent. (Castro has refused for years to cash the rent checks we send annually to the Cuban government.) The story is complex and sordid, and the details aren't necessary here. But we should recognize that not only in Cuba but throughout Latin America, Guantanamo is known as a symbol of American empire and of mistreatment of our hemispheric neighbors. What a delightfully positive (if unlikely) step it would be for the United States to announce that it was not only closing the detention center but returning Guantanamo itself to the country to which it rightfully belongs. Now that might be a way of turning a page in history. . . .