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My Turn: Ayotte must change her position on Guantanamo

Last modified: 12/8/2013 10:58:46 PM
Sen. Kelly Ayotte is not only impeding President Obama’s promise to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, she’s actively trying to keep the facility open. Just last month, she proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have made it even more difficult than it already is to transfer prisoners. Some Guantanamo detainees have been held without charges for more than 10 years. This is in clear violation of their right to a fair trial in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In an historical context, Ayotte’s efforts to keep the facility open and continue preventing trials and transfers for detainees will surely be looked back on as horribly misguided.

I was raised in New Hampshire as the daughter of an attorney who taught my siblings and me that justice must be served under the law. In keeping with that legacy, and in my role as a faculty member in the New Hampshire state university system, I make sure that when I teach courses on Japanese culture we discuss the history of the Japanese in the United States. My students learn how during World War II, 127,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage were denied their freedom and livelihoods. They were forced into internment camps due only to the fact that they shared the same ethnic background as the enemy during wartime. At that time, over 5,500 U.S.-born citizens of Japanese descent were denied due process and coerced into renouncing their citizenship; most of them left stateless until the renunciations were later overturned as illegal by the courts.

It was wrong of our government to demonize and dehumanize these individuals and to deny them of their most basic rights and liberties. It was wrong to do so in the midst of World War II, just as it is wrong today for our government to deny the individuals held at Guantanamo Bay their right to due process and a fair trial.

Human rights, including the right to a fair trial, apply to all individuals, not only those who share our citizenship. They are absolute and not to be compromised for the sake of political expediency.

There are safe, effective and lawful alternatives to Guantanamo.

Each detainee should either be charged and fairly tried in a U.S. federal court or be released. This way, any defendant found guilty would be punished as specified by U.S. law. Of the 164 detainees being held at Guantanamo, 84 have already been cleared for transfer. Sen. Carl Levin has proposed, and the Senate has upheld, new Guantanamo transfer provisions that will give the president the flexibility to transfer detainees who have been charged to the U.S. for trial in federal court. For those cleared for release, the new provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 will allow them to be transferred to other countries.

Sen. Ayotte, don’t leave the state of New Hampshire with an historical legacy of rationalizing the perpetration of human rights abuses in the name of national security.

Instead of trying to maintain a system of indefinite detention and the deprivation of basic rights, our elected officials should support the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

We must work to become defenders of human rights for all people; we must get on the right side of history.

(Pam Ikegami of Portsmouth teaches at the University of New Hampshire. She is a volunteer legislative coordinator for Amnesty International USA.)


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