As President Barack Obama prepares to be inaugurated for his second term, he re-enters the Oval Office with several challenging tasks in front of him. One of the most challenging, and most important, is his unfulfilled commitment to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the first detainees being taken to Guantanamo Bay.
On one hand, I know in my heart that in the past 11 years, our country has taken major steps forward from the culture of fear that developed immediately following the tragic events of September 11th. Yet, at the same time, I recognize that critical measures still need to be taken before we can honestly say that our country has emerged politically, morally and spiritually from the unlawful post-9/11-era policies.
As much as we try to remove the years of U.S.-sponsored torture and indefinite detention from the forefront of our political consciousness, Guantanamo Bay remains a vivid American symbol representing a rejection of the rule of law and a threat to our national security.
The stakes in closing Guantanamo are high. It is an international symbol of torture. Faith groups have made it clear that the tenets of their traditions teach them that torture is immoral and absolutely unacceptable under all circumstances. If Guantanamo remains open, it implies that our country has not permanently put torture behind us. The soul of our nation that our children and grandchildren will inherit is at risk.
By signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which further complicates the possibility of transferring people out of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, President Obama signaled his reluctance to make good on his early assurance that he would close the detention center.
It seems as though the president is unwilling to invest the political capital necessary to fulfill one of his earliest promises to the American people. I believe however, that if President Obama used his influence, he could close Guantanamo Bay. All religions teach that human beings in the final analysis are judged by what they actually do. It is the behavior, not the rhetoric, of a nation or individual that is judged. No matter what Obama's intentions are, it is the successful act of closing Guantanamo that would endure.
That is why it is so critically important for the president to take action early in his second term in a way which represents the American people and the values we cherish so greatly. The longer he waits -- and the closer he is to being on the way out of the Oval Office -- there will be more validation for holding people indefinitely and using torture. If he does not shutter Guantanamo, Guantanamo will outlast his presidency. And that would be a terrible legacy.
Today, 166 detainees remain at Guantanamo, and the likelihood of transferring any of these men out of Guantanamo this year has decreased because of the recent legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president.
President Obama, I urge you: Do not let your first promise be your last deed. Use your executive power to close Guantanamo Bay and once and for all, lead us out of the dark shadow of September 11th and restore our moral standing as a nation that can be a light unto others.