In Benjamin Franklin's letter to clergyman Samuel Cooper, Franklin remarks that there is a "common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own." The United States' founding principles include respect for the rights of individuals. Our unique role in the world should be centered on a fundamental regard for the liberty and humanity of all human beings, which is why the ongoing debate over the detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay must be resolved.
As Congress reconvenes for the fall session, lawmakers possess the ability to shift U.S. policy on Guantanamo from the status quo, which is endangering lives and our national security, to a common sense approach.
As a West Virginia native, I believe it is time for Senators Manchin and Rockefeller to show leadership in the Senate on Guantanamo. Additionally, it is time for President Obama to show the leadership needed to close the facility. Doing so would advance both human rights and the values Americans cherish.
When President Bush's administration opened the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, it was just months after 9/11. At that time, it was seen as a place where people could be held outside of the law. Hence, more than 10 years later, Guantanamo hasn't brought any sense of justice for 9/11. Instead, it has brought unfair trials, indefinite detention, and torture, all of which run contrary to our ideals.
In May, President Obama once again reaffirmed his support for closing the prison, saying, "[T]he idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried -- that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop."
There are many avenues that can be taken to correct the injustices at Guantanamo Bay. Senators Manchin and Rockefeller can support Senator Carl Levin's (D-Mich.) improvements to the Guantanamo transfer provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014.
Adopting the new provisions would enable the transfer from Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared by the U.S. government to leave.
People like Shaker Aamer, who has spent more than 11 years in Guantanamo, have been approved for transfer under two presidents, and whose release have been repeatedly called for by the United Kingdom. Currently, Mr. Aamer is one of dozens of detainees that have been approved for transfer and wait in a form of indefinite limbo. The new provisions would expedite and streamline the process.
The remaining detainees that have not been approved for transfer must then be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or released to countries that will respect their human rights.
Guantanamo is not a symbol of justice; it is a tool for the recruitment of extremists and a black eye for our country. It's time to return to the principles we cherish by leading the final charge to close the prison, a leadership role President Obama, Sen. Manchin and Sen. Rockefeller must embrace. We don't need Guantanamo Bay for our safety and security.
We need to return to the principles that make America worth defending, and recognize that our safety and security are dependent on upholding human rights.
Lyman, originally from Moundsville, is a student at Tulane University, where he serves as the Amnesty International coordinator and a member of Amnesty International's Southern Regional Planning Group.