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Guantanamo’s Death Row


Dear Mr. President,

Your Guantanamo choice – to release the hunger strikers or let them die – reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s similar choice in 1981 when “the Iron Lady,” as her admirers called her, allowed 10 Irishmen to slowly starve to death because she would not recognize their most basic human rights. Thatcher’s stubborn reputation was preserved. But the whole world was watching. One of the strikers, Bobby Sands, was elected to parliament as he lay dying. The agony caused massive sympathy for Irish Republicans and led directly to the political success of Sinn Fein and the Good Friday peace agreement.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>The White House has the power to reframe the issue. Your political opponents and many moderate voters define the detainees as terrorists who deserve their fate, and who, if released, will return to the battlefield against the United States. The facts are these: the total number at Guantanamo has declined from 240 to 166 since your promise to close the facility. There are 86 already designated for transfer, 56 of them from Yemen. You have the power, on a case-by-case basis, to release them, although many in Congress will complain vociferously. Sen. Diane Feinstein, however, already has called on you to lift the ban. Not only will such a step ease the Guantanamo crisis, it may facilitate the stalled talks with the Taliban. The release of one US prisoner held by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, has been blocked by House Republicans objecting to an exchange for some Taliban detainees in Guantanamo; the exchange was meant to be a step toward a negotiated settlement.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>So here is a proposal:

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>Let us re-examine more critically the “threat” posed by releasing the Yemeni detainees. It is claimed by US intelligence that between 16 and 25 percent of the original Guantanamo detainees rounded up by George Bush are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorist battlefields. As the New York Times analysis points out, that implies that 72 percent “are living quietly.” (New York Times, April 25, 2013) Without question, of the official definitions, this would mean that up to 13 or 14 Yemenis now detained might well join ranks with Al Qaeda. Though your right-wing critics would inflate the threat and castigate your “softness,” the truth is that 14 more supporters of Al Qaeda in Yemen would make no difference at all. One might even argue that they serve Al Qaeda’s purposes more effectively in Guantanamo detention than using their English-language skills to become translators in some Sana underground office. Sen. Feinstein's letter suggests that Yemen's current regime, heavily bolstered by US forces, is capable of providing adequate security assurances for the detainees. In that case, there would be no problem whatsoever.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>To summarize, free some Guantanamo detainees in order to end the Guantanamo hunger strike and restart the stalled peace talks with the Taliban.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>Do not go the way of Thatcher, Mr. President. Releasing some Guantanamo detainees will save lives, will be a gesture toward peace and will salvage some global respect for our country.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>Tom Hayden 

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