01/12/2012 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Power of Symbols: The Need to Close Guantanamo


The religious community knows well the power of symbols. Religious symbols motivate people of faith to do good and even courageous acts. Some religions see God in the symbol itself amplifying its power to motivate.

Symbols can also be destructive. They can confuse as well as foster dangerous behavior. Because it is the symbol of U.S. torture policies, the detention center at Guantanamo is a profoundly destructive symbol.

Guantanamo is the symbol of our country's violation of our deepest values. Regardless of how it is operated now compared to how it was operated in earlier years, it stands in the minds of hundreds of millions of people in our nation and around the globe as the place where America broke faith with itself and used torture as an interrogation technique. Torture is immoral, illegal, and never justifiable -- without exception.

Guantanamo is a symbol of our nation's vulnerability to abandon our principles and commitment to the rule of law in times of crisis. It is a stain on our image and reputation. It weakens our moral authority and influence around the world, and it puts our troops and our citizens abroad in danger. Recently, the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran -- a confinement the U.S. government condemned -- reported that their captors used Guantanamo as justification for their imprisonment and abuse.

Although President Obama banned torture shortly after taking office in 2009 and pledged to close Guantanamo, 10 years to the day after the first inmates were detained there, the prison remains open. Congress has passed legislation that impedes the closing of the detention center. Recently we have seen candidates for President still advocate torture as a legitimate means of interrogation, at times prompting cheers from their supporters. The continued operation of the detention camp at Guantanamo raises the worrying prospect that this legacy of government-approved torture may leave the U.S. more susceptible to a return to torture policies in administrations after Obama's.

The challenge for the United States is to assure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again. I think about that goal often. I do not want my eight grandchildren to grow up in a country that engages in torture. I want them to be able to say in their adulthood that while at one time there was a dark and sad chapter in U.S. history when torture took place, that era is definitively over now. That won't happen again.

My grandchildren will only grow up in a torture-free world if the most contemporary powerful symbol of torture is dismantled. Our nation must close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay now to remove a dangerous symbol and to ensure that the next generation does not grow up in a country that tortures.