Faith leaders say it’s time to close Gitmo

Forty-three faith leaders called on senators to support provisions that would allow the U.S. government to take practical steps toward drawing down prisoner population and eventually closing down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

By Bob Allen

The head of American Baptist Churches USA joined other faith leaders in a Nov. 18 letter urging senators to support President Obama’s efforts to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

ABC/USA General Secretary Roy Medley joined Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith leaders urging the Senate to pass a defense-spending bill that would ease restrictions on 164 detainees currently held in Guantanamo.

aroymedley“Although we are of many faiths, we share common convictions which lead us to support closing Guantanamo,” the 43 faith leaders said. “First, we believe that torture is morally wrong. Second, both as people of faith and as Americans, we believe that indefinite detention without charge or trial is contrary to the founding values of our country.”

“Guantanamo is a place where prisoners were tortured and where the vast majority of the detainees continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial,” said the letter coordinated by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. “Closing it is the right thing to do.”

Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, was one of the letter’s signers.

“As a minister, I understand the power of symbols,” Killmer said in a press release. “Guantanamo is a symbol of torture and indefinite detention. It is a place that was created to exist outside the basic values of our nation. Guantanamo should have never been opened, and we should move to close it as soon as reasonably possible.”

A bill before the Senate would simplify the process of transferring detainees if they are not a threat to the United States or if their transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. A Nov. 17 report on 60 Minutes described prisoners who have been held without formal charges since the military prison known as Gitmo opened in 2002.

“The right to a trial is a core American value,” the faith leaders said. “Many of the detainees in Guantanamo have been there for over a decade, yet still have no real prospect of facing trial or justice.”

They called maintaining the prison in an era of austerity a waste of taxpayer money. More importantly, they said, it poses “a serious moral dilemma.”

“Our nation cannot be a beacon of liberty and justice while continuing to operate an offshore prison which disregards the rule of law,” the letter said. “It is time for us to end this moral crisis.”