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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2011

Enduring stain

The saga of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continues. President Obama promised in his 2008 campaign to close the prison within a year of his inauguration. But he has been unable or unwilling to do so, and now appears to have given up.

WikiLeaks has provided more than 700 classified U.S. military documents to the New York Times and other media outlets. They detail life for prisoners at Guantanamo, including individual files on hundreds of them. Some have been held there for more than nine years without trial, despite constitutional guarantees of due process of law and U.S. and international pledges to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. government has maintained high secrecy about the Guantanamo prisoners. The release of military documents from 2002 to 2009 adds substantially to the public’s knowledge.

The prisoners come from 47 countries and Palestine. The largest numbers are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Five prisoners committed suicide. Some 600 prisoners have been released. One-third of these were considered “high risk” — constituting a future danger to the United States. One of the high-risk prisoners, released after five years at Guantanamo, is fighting in Libya for the anti-Gadhafi rebels, America’s allies.

The reports indicate that 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo. Some of them are scheduled to be put on trial before U.S. military tribunals.

Many have been subjected to what is variously called abusive treatment, abusive interrogation, harsh interrogation techniques, or coercive interrogation. These are euphemisms for what is commonly called torture — a practice that makes testimony inadmissible in court.

The spectacle at Guantanamo remains a vivid stain on America’s reputation for justice, as a nation of laws. The new documents offer a clear reminder that Guantanamo is creating people who will leave captivity in a U.S. military prison with a deep and abiding hatred of Americans — a dangerous heritage for the future.

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