President Barack Obama speaks at Hyde Park Academy High School in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, February 15, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 27, 2013 6:46AM
Among the hunger strikers in Guantanamo Bay is a man who had never heard of Osama bin Laden when he was recruited by the Taliban in 2001, at a time America was still funding the Taliban.
According to Thomas P. Sullivan, the former U.S. attorney for northern Illinois, the man, a high school graduate, left Yemen for Pakistan and then Kabul, where he spent seven months in a Taliban “guesthouse.” He was never on a battleground or in combat and never fired at anyone. The man, now Sullivan’s client, fled to Pakistan when America began bombing near Kabul after 9/11. He was picked up by Pakistani police, and turned over to the United States. He has been in Guantanamo ever since.
Sullivan’s client is not deemed safe for release because his stay in the Taliban guesthouse means he flunks the test of being associated with either al-Qaida or the Taliban. But indefinite detention without charges is not the American way, and ducking the rule of law hurts our international standing.
President Barack Obama was right on Thursday to reaffirm his 2008 campaign promise to close the military-run prison, where about 100 of 166 prisoners are in the midst of a hunger strike. Obama also has announced he is lifting his 2009 ban on transfers of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.
Obama says Republicans who opposed trials of terrorism suspects in the United States have prevented him from closing Guantanamo. Also, some other countries have refused to take some prisoners. But there is a strong argument — one that Sullivan accepts — that Obama, as commander in chief, does not need congressional approval to shut the prison down.
Guantanamo is a blot on America’s world image. Some prisoners who were among 86 cleared for release died before they could leave. Others have given up hope. This isn’t how we do things.
As long ago as 2009, we called on Obama to close Guantanamo, end the practice of holding terror suspects indefinitely and try the suspects in civil courts. Those are the steps that would be consistent with American ideals. Now Obama must follow through on his vow to close Guantanamo, and quickly.